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January 31, 2013

Lawyer diversity in the new normal

by dan rodriguez

I was pleased to speak before a reception at Northwestern Law organized by the Hispanic Bar Association of Illinois.  Kudos to Quarles & Brady for their help in sponsoring this gathering.

I commented about what I see to be some sobering implications of the structural changes in the legal employment market on the fate of minority lawyers, especially those just beginning their profession.  Some of the specific threats include the turning away from mentoring of young lawyers of color as the demands of clients and the economic bottom line of large and, perhaps especially, small, law firms increase.  Mentoring, along with pro bono service, becomes viewed as a luxury when firms face economic pressures.  That has become a common result in recessionary periods; and there is every reason to believe that this will be a consequence of more structural adjustments.

Moreover, the declining job market impacts — in many cases, imperils — opportunities for students without dependable financial means.  To be more blunt, growing student debt affects those most vulnerable in the economic shakeout.  The imperative of dealing with student debt and the high costs of legal education is a matter of increasing attention and properly so.  I only offer, in what I hope is a rather obvious way, the thought that this acute condition impacts in particular ways students of color.  Thus, the diversity of the legal profession is one more thing at stake when we consider reform.

No magic answer to the problem, to be sure.  But there is a great value to acknowledging that this is a potential problem and that solving it requires strategic choices and constructive partnerships between the academy and the bar.

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