Letter From The President Of The Bar Association Of San Francisco

2013-08-19 10:22

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

Achieving Greater Diversity in the Legal Profession

For more than 24 years, The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) has focused on achieving greater diversity in San Francisco, in the state, and in the legal profession. In November 2012, BASF’s Equality Committee held a diversity summit to further BASF’s efforts to increase diversity in the legal profession. The main goal of the summit, titled “Unmasking Diversity,” was to allow participants to have an honest dialogue about how to achieve greater diversity and better retention in the legal profession, which dialogue would then shape the issues addressed in BASF’s 2015 Goals and Timetables report.

The Goals and Timetables report is the outcome of a disturbing University of California at Berkeley study that was commissioned by BASF in 1987–88, which found that racial and ethnic minorities encountered profound objective and subjective disadvantages within the city’s legal workplaces. In 1990, BASF adopted the Goals and Timetables for Minority Hiring and Advancement, an act that was unprecedented, particularly given the United States Supreme Court ruling in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. In that landmark decision, the Court held that while race could be one factor among many in admissions’ considerations, excluding an applicant because he or she was white was unconstitutional. BASF’s establishment of goals and timetables in this political climate was a bold move that gained widespread attention.

In order to establish the goals and timetables, BASF looked at the demographics of California law schools at that time. The first target timetable was 1995 with the goals being that 15 percent of associates and 5 percent of partners would be racially diverse. The goals and timetables would be revisited every five years to ascertain if and how they were being met. (In 2000, the goals were increased to 25 percent for associates and 10 percent for partners. The 2005 goals were 35 percent for associates and 12 percent for partners. For 2010, the goals were 37 percent for associates and 15 percent for partners; in addition, a new goal was set for African-American and Latino associates, which was 9 percent.)

Within the first year, 98 legal employers had signed on to the goals and timetables. Since that time, the number of legal employers has more than doubled.

Despite this commitment, diversity in the legal profession is not moving at the hoped-for pace.

Faced with this reality, and with preparation of the 2015 Goals and Timetables report looming, BASF asked whether our efforts have been as effective as they could be, and whether there are other issues we could be studying to be more strategic, more practical, and more helpful in diversifying the legal community. We needed to see what issues were being masked by the data since focusing on numbers clearly was not working. In other words, we needed to unmask diversity in the San Francisco legal profession.

The “Unmasking Diversity” summit was the first step in that process. It examined whether focusing singularly on data has masked issues, particularly given that the numbers are not progressing as hoped.

The dialogue commenced with a panel discussion by law firm decision makers, which focused on providing a context for where law firms are today in terms of diversity, describing what the current perception is regarding diversity in law firms, and discussing what challenges law firms currently face in increasing diversity within their firms.

The law firm decision-makers panel was followed by a panel discussion by in-house counsel change makers which took a hard look at the role that in-house counsel play in the legal community’s efforts to diversify its workforce. While in-house counsel recognized that they play a significant role in dictating and shaping the diversity of the law firms they hire, they also recognized that much more can be done in this regard. This recognition is a significant step in effecting positive social change and in reaching BASF’s diversity goals. BASF looks forward to working with in-house counsel in meeting these challenges.

The probative discussions held in the BASF Diversity Summit have provided us with the foundation for the 2015 Goals and Timetables report. As a result, the 2015 report will focus in part on the issue of advancement – or lack thereof – in the legal profession. Efforts will include recruitment, employment, retention, and upward advancement in the legal profession. In addition, the report will explore the issues of intersectionality and ethnic subgroups.

2015 will be the 25th year of the goals and timetables initiative by BASF. As in past years, BASF will continue to explore ways in which to improve diversity in the legal profession through the probative study of issues in the 2015 Goals and Timetables report, which will be released in June 2015.

Sincerely yours,

Christopher C. Kearney