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New Initiative Builds Diversity Pipeline to Law School

The Pipeline Diversity Directory will profile efforts of those committed to greater diversity in the law field.

The United States needs more lawyers from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups to serve a client pool that is increasingly diverse. It is a challenge that law schools and the legal profession have been addressing for some time, and one in which a measure of success has been achieved. In the 20-year period beginning with the 1986- 1987 academic school year, minority enrollment in law school grew from 12,550 to 30,557, an increase of 143 percent. Yes, there are more minority law students today, but the number required to serve an increasingly diverse America is a long way from being realized.

To achieve diversity in law β€” as in many other professions, areas of study and segments of our society β€” we have to work harder just to remain even. The goal of diversity is a moving target as reflected by population growth and demographic shifts in the citizenry over the past half century. Efforts by the profession to educate prospective lawyers and guide them along the path to legal careers come at a time when other professions are engaged in similar recruitment initiatives. Law β€” like medicine, engineering, business, education and so on β€” wants its share of β€œthe best and the brightest.”

Currently, the legal profession is among the least diverse, and the presence of racial and ethnic minorities β€” when achieved β€” has not been universal throughout the settings where law is practiced. Large and medium-sized law firms, for example, remain behind small firms in attracting lawyers of color. There have been, however, diligent efforts by large and medium-sized firms to increase the diversity of their partners and associates.

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC), whose members are more than 200 American Bar Association-approved law schools, is also committed to increasing the number of lawyers from underrepresented minority groups. To affirm that commitment, the council has pledged resources to racial and ethnic diversity initiatives since 1983. To date, LSAC has committed more than $23 million to diversity initiatives targeted to students from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds.

One such initiative is the Pipeline Diversity Directory (PDD), which is being developed jointly by the American Bar Association and LSAC. This online directory will profile efforts by law schools, law firms, bar associations, legal organizations and others committed to greater diversity in law school enrollment. The kinds of programs profiled in the PDD will include those from early intervention programs aimed at elementary and middle school students, to mentoring activities for undergraduates, to career change programs created for working adults. The PDD will present information about scholarships, tutoring/mentoring programs, internships, bar examination prep programs β€” any activity or service that has a law school or legal career emphasis and that seeks to engage minority participants.

The objective of the online PDD is twofold. First, it will serve as a resource for prospective law students and lawyers who need information to guide them through the exploration, decision-making, application, study and many career entry options that lie before them. Counselors, teachers, prelaw advisers, professors and others serving youth and adults can also use the PDD as a guidance tool.

The PDD’s second objective is to provide model programs for law schools, law firms, bar associations and other organizations interested in creating diversity initiatives; building on the experiences of diversity pioneers and extending the reach of such already existing programs. Initiatives beget initiatives, with the ultimate beneficiary being a diverse population served by a diverse legal profession.

LSAC encourages Diverse readers to learn more about the types of student activities and services that the directory aims to profile, then share the information with those colleagues and friends who may be engaged in diversity efforts that should be included. Once the PDD is fully operational in the summer of 2009, we further encourage taking the next step and informing students and others who might benefit from the information presented in the PPD.

There are many prospective law students and future lawyers in your institutions and communities. Help them by lighting the noble path to law school.

β€” Kent D. Lollis is the executive director for diversity initiatives at the Law School Admission Council. Dr. Frank Burtnett is the president of Education Now, an educational consulting firm in Springfield, Va., who serves as project manager for the Pipeline Diversity Directory. E-mail [email protected] to contact the PDD and learn more about the initiative.

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