A Letter from the Diversity Pipeline Programs Manager for the Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco

2014-12-21 15:17

To the Readers of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel

Getting Over Diversity Fatigue: Why Diversity in the Legal Profession Still Matters

It is critical that our profession reflects the multiplicity of individuals who rely on our legal system. If nearly 50 percent of the population in California is minority and only 13 percent of the attorneys in CA are minority, our legal system is often not perceived as fair and accessible. In addition, attorneys with diverse backgrounds working together on a legal matter are more likely to come up with greater possible solutions and strategies. This is why diversity in the legal profession still matters.

According to the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession, in 2012, 33.3 percent of the legal profession was composed of women. In the law firm setting, only 19.9 percent of women were partners, and 15 percent were equity partners. As for legal corporations, 15 percent of general counsel in Fortune 500 companies were women. There is a striking similarity in the statistics for racial and ethnically diverse attorneys in the state of California.

The State Bar of California Council on Access and Fairness projects in 2020 that the percentage of minority attorneys will be as follows: 5.6 percent Latino, 7.4 percent African-American and 14.2 percent Asian Pacific Islander, as compared to the projected population of 39 percent Latino; 14 percent Asian Pacific Islander and 6 percent African-Americans.

As of December 31, 2013, less than 1 percent of California judges were Native American, 5.9 percent Asian, 6.2 percent African-American and 9.1 percent Latino. The unfortunate truth is that although we have made progress in diversifying our profession, we still have a long way to go.

So what is The Bar Association of San Francisco doing about it? At the Justice & Diversity Center of The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF), our mission is to advance fairness and equality by providing pro bono legal services to low-income people and educational programs to underserved students that foster diversity in the legal profession. We have 15 diversity pipeline initiatives from elementary school to the bench that promote diversity in higher education and the legal profession.

Our School-To-College (STC) program encourages and supports diverse high school students with college preparation, and on average more than 90 percent of STC students get accepted into college. Our Destination Law School program assists diverse college students and recent graduates through the law school application and LSAT process. Our Bay Area Minority Law Student Scholarship program awards $30,000 three-year scholarships to diverse law students with financial need attending a Bay Area Law School. The Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, a program of BASF and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, allows diverse rising second-year law students to interview for summer legal internships. Our Mind the Gap program, which serves new attorneys in San Francisco, also benefits newer diverse attorneys and provides practical training and mentorship opportunities to recent law school graduates who are unemployed and underemployed. 

For more than twenty years we have studied racial and ethnic diversity within the San Francisco/Bay Area legal community. Every five years we conduct a study of local law firms to assess the hiring, retention and advancement of minority attorneys. Our next report is scheduled to be published in mid-2015. Our Corporate Counsel Diversity Task Force is also identifying best practices for the hiring of diverse corporate counsel and outside counsel at majority owned law firms.

BASF members continue to support our pledge to increase diversity in the legal profession by participating in our Equality Committee on Minorities, LGBT Issues, Disability Rights and Women’s Initiatives.

BASF also initiated a committee of diversity recruiters and hiring managers at Bay Area law firms who meet on a quarterly basis to discuss and brainstorm new diversity initiatives at their respective firms.

It takes candid conversation, open dialogue and strategic planning to recruit, hire and promote diverse attorneys. Diversity in our profession ensures that a wide range of views and perspectives are acknowledged, fostered and implemented. Diversity also enhances the practice and helps create employee satisfaction and increase attorney retention.


Nicole Britton-Snyder