“Prejudice wears a variety of hats, none of them becoming.”
In a world that is gradually prioritizing fairness and acceptance, it’s easy for most people to convince themselves that they are paragons of virtue and impartiality.
Unfortunately, this lofty vision of themselves rarely matches reality. We all carry some degree of prejudice against other people, a prejudice that affects how we treat the people around us. By nature, prejudice is so deeply buried in our psyche that we hardly notice how it affects our behavior.
One of the most powerful displays of bias is our refusal to associate with other people because they are different in some way. This difference could be because of their mental abilities, physical form, sexual orientation, class background, or race.
What inclusion is really about
Inclusion is not just about accepting a student to a learning institution or hiring them in an organization; it goes far deeper. Inclusion is about making people feel welcome in a group setting and giving them a sense of belonging. Inclusion means truly incorporating someone in the social setting and giving them a place and a voice that carries weight in the group. Inclusion is about showing appreciation and acceptance of individual differences and learning how to take advantage of these differences for the benefit of society.
Critics of the concept of inclusion have attempted to paint the idea negatively by claiming it negatively impacts organizational productivity. This fallacy lies at the heart of why the concept has remained not as fully adopted as much as it should be. Therefore, it is necessary to offer a response to this before moving any further.
First, inclusion does not create inefficacy; it has the exact opposite effect. Inclusion allows groups and organizations to hear different and unique points of view that they would have otherwise ignored.
Secondly, fostering inclusion and acceptance in an organization helps motivate people to offer their best performance because they feel like they have a stake in the group.
It’s important to note that high intelligence does not guarantee you will understand the importance of inclusion. Lawyers and law students consider themselves to be—and actually are—pretty smart people. And yet, this does not prevent them from falling into the trap of bias. This bias is first observable in law school in how students treat other students who are different.
A 2020 study by the American Bar Association found that 23% of black law students felt that their schools did “very little” to foster or support an inclusive environment.
Many students also felt that their environment treated them differently based on gender, religion, and sexual orientation. Prejudice impacts whether students who are different will be invited to study groups, whether they will receive peer advocacy and whether they will make friends.
What started in law school eventually translates into behavior in law firms. People who are different are not hired; even if they are hired, no effort is made to help them feel at home. This eventually affects the kinds of clients and cases lawyers are willing to take.
Inclusion in firms isn’t just about how lawyers treat their coworkers; it’s also about how they treat their clients or potential clients. Lawyers should show fairness in how they treat their clients regardless of race, gender, orientation, or class.
Here are some steps to take to improve inclusivity in law schools and in the workplace:
 "Blog - LSSSE." https://lssse.indiana.edu/?m=202012&cat=80. Accessed 7 Oct. 2022.
To understand that inclusion is important, people must first become aware of it. Talking to people is the first and most important step toward promoting greater inclusivity.
#: Establish a culture
We are what we do regularly, not what we do sporadically. Establishing a culture is about fostering patterns of behavior geared towards encouraging a way of thinking and behaving.
#: Work with bar associations
National, state, and local bar associations have programs designed to foster a culture of inclusivity in the wider legal community, including encouraging lawyers who are different to speak at events and providing financial support to unique programs.
Graduation is approaching. I look around, and only one other Black male is graduating with me in my class. In addition, the number of men who are part of a minority group that is graduating in total at my school is lower than the national average. Merriam Webster dictionary defines the word minority as “a part of a population thought of as differing from the rest of the population in some characteristics and often subjected to differential treatment.” According to research done between 1980 and 2021, graduation rates have been lower for Black and Hispanic law students (82 and 85 percent) compared to other students (89 percent). There is also a graduation gap between Hispanic and Black law students 3.5, and 10 percentage points, respectively, when compared to their white peers.
Across law schools, minority law students have been consistently underrepresented in entering law school classes. Minority law students have also graduated at lower rates. However, the magnitude of their underrepresentation has decreased, in part because the gap in graduation rates has been cut in half since the early 1980s.
Why does it matter?
The lack of representation among men who are in minority groups matters for several reasons. But a few important reasons come to mind. First, representation matters. When prospective attorneys see those who share similar interests, backgrounds, and cultures achieve higher education beyond a bachelor’s degree at a high level, this alone creates hope for the next generation. Second, for there to be an appearance that our laws are benefitting all persons, racial and ethnic diversity in the legal profession is paramount.
But before discussing solutions for graduation rates, we must tackle the disparity in minority enrollment and attrition rates, the rates at which students leave without achieving a degree. As one of the ambassadors for Journey to Esquire, I use this platform to bring awareness to some of the issues minority students face while pursuing their Juris Doctor degree. This blog post will focus on the issues in enrollment and the attrition rates for minority students, especially Black male students.
Each year for the past eleven years, the number of men attending ABA-accredited law schools has declined. Men are increasingly turning away from the legal profession, while the enrollment of women over the past decade has increased. In 2010, there were approximately 78,518 men in law school, compared to only 52,058 in 2021. These statistics present a more drastic picture when considering minority male students’, especially Black males’, attrition rates in law school (15.5%). In 2016, minority students made up approximately 30% of 1L enrollment but accounted for 44% of 1L non-transfer attrition. See figure below:
When examining the non-transfer attrition statistics for men from minority groups, almost nine percent of 1L Non-Transfer attrition students are Hispanic while almost 11 percent are Black students. Figure two compares the 1L Non-transfer Attrition Rate at ABA-approved law school between 2016 and 2017.
Many minority students face outside factors contributing to the increase in attrition rates. Among these factors are a lack of financial resources, proper study environments, and transportation costs. The underrepresentation of minority students will not improve with the current state of affirmative action policies in higher education admissions, which are now considered unconstitutional under Students for Fair Admission.
The need for Journey to Esquire and other diversity programs
What can we do to combat these declining numbers of men from minority groups (in particular Black men) entering and remaining in law school? First, we support the existing pipeline and diversity, equity, and inclusion programs like Journey to Esquire. Journey to Esquire is, in its own words, is “essential for diverse law students who need financial and emotional support because we provide cash scholarships, mentors, and training which helps them pass the bar exam, obtain employment with competitive and powerful employers, and obtain leadership positions in professional associations.”
Journey to Esquire’s purpose is to help law school and the legal profession to reflect on the communities more accurately they serve. The enrollment and attrition rate gaps will not disappear over time; however, this is a start. Journey to Esquire provides mentorship and sponsors to help mitigate those outside factors that minority students, especially Black men, face every day. America needs more diversity in the legal field. Clients want to know that, regardless of their ethnic background, that there is someone who looks like them, or at least has experienced some of the same struggles as them, is available to represent their legal needs. Why? Because, in most instances, these clients come to an attorney for assistance in navigating the tough days that lie ahead.
If you want to support these types of diversity initiatives that improve diversity in law schools, then there are so few things you can do. These things include voting, being a part of governing boards and nonprofits that approve of diversity in scholarships, enrollment in law schools, and eventually job placement. The next generation of attorneys is counting on us to help make this legal field represent the melting pot that is the United States of America.
About the Author:
Rashaad Perry-Patterson is a graduating senior this December. He is one of Journey to Esquire’s Ambassadors for the 2023 academic year.
“In the Halls of Justice, the only justice is in the halls.”
In the past, various industries and fields have witnessed a major push for the concept of equality. As a concept, equality is quite different from the idea of equity.
Proponents of equality argued that there was a lot of workplace discrimination and demanded that every employee be given the same resources and opportunities.
However, over time, it became clear that equality wouldn’t be enough, which is when the concept of equity came into play. Equity advocates recognize and acknowledge that different groups of people face different circumstances and challenges. This means that simply offering equal opportunities isn’t going to be enough.
Equity means each individual must get the exact resources they need to achieve equal outcomes with their peers. Equity recognizes that the effects of discrimination and disadvantages go far deeper than most people are willing to admit.
Examples of challenges faced by women practicing lawSome of the most prominent challenges faced by women practicing law are:
#: The tight trope problemWomen have to balance between being too aggressive and being too feminine. When they are too aggressive, they receive backlash for being masculine; if they are too feminine, they are perceived as pushovers.
#: The maternal aspect of thingsWhen women take maternity leave, they are denied promotional and work opportunities not denied to men.
#: Compensation biasEven when they are on the same level as their male counterparts, women are still perceived as doing a different amount of work than their colleagues, so they receive lower financial compensation.
#: Unconscious biasFemale lawyers in courtrooms have been mistaken for reporters and other non-legal duties because people still don’t expect them to be practicing lawyers.
#: InterruptionsAccording to Harvard Business Review, female Supreme Court justices were interrupted three times more than their male counterparts. This shows that discrimination reaches even the highest court in the land. This happens to female lawyers as well.
Examples of challenges faced by racial minorities practicing lawBelow are some of the most common challenges faced by racial minorities practicing law:
#: Perception of not being good enoughMany minorities still experience a lack of confidence in both their law firms and their clients. This impacts their overall confidence performance.
#: Punishment for speaking out against injusticeWhen minorities speak out against injustice at law firms, they are perceived as “trouble makers” and thus blacklisted against future promotional opportunities.
#: Prove it again biasWomen of color report being asked to prove that they are actually competent at their jobs. This interferes with their efficiency
How law firms can promote equityLaw firms can promote equity by implementing ideas like…
#: Offering more promotions to womenAfter the worst part of the COVID-19 crisis had passed between January 2020 and January 2022, it was observed that nearly all male workers in the legal profession regained their jobs, but women didn’t return to the workforce at the same rates.
Women didn’t return because they faced burnout at work and weren’t getting enough promotional opportunities. Although more women are graduating from law schools than men, the number of female partners in firms has not exceeded its approximate range of 20%. Women also report disproportionate burnout due to balancing familial responsibilities at home.
Women should receive more promotional opportunities, but cultural forms of discrimination still burden them, impacting their work performance.
#: Creating mentorship programs targeting womenSheryl Sandberg’s MENTOR HER program was created to encourage people to offer greater mentorship opportunities to women so they can learn how to get to the top of corporate America.
#: Recognize holidays meant to recognize minoritiesBlack history month and pride month should be used as moments of reflection to determine how much progress has been made in a law firm to promote equity amongst the various disadvantaged groups.
#: Offer minorities greater opportunities to have their voices heardMinorities face unique challenges in the workplace and should get a greater voice to make their views and feeling known.
#: Hire diversity officersDiversity officers have one job: find highly skilled individuals to help the firm achieve its goals while recognizing the need for a more diverse work environment.
#: Promoting equity in the worldLawyers also have the power to promote equity in the world through the cases they take. Cases against injustice perpetrated against women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community are a great way to promote greater fairness and justice in the world.
Journey to Esquire®️ The Podcast
These posts were proofread by Grammarly
Joseline J. Hardrick is the Founder and President of Diversity Access Pipeline, Inc. She is also an author, professor, and lawyer and resides in Tampa Bay, Florida. Guest bloggers are students in the Journey to Esquire® Scholarship & Leadership Program.