Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : November 2005

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MSBA Sees Strides in Diversity in Last 18 Years
~Challenges lie ahead~
By Janet Stidman Eveleth

When MSBA first explored the issue of diversity in the legal profession in 1987, it uncovered problems minority attorneys were facing at that time and created a Committee on Minorities in the Legal Profession (CMLP) to address these concerns. In 2005, MSBA’s Committee revisited this issue, conducted a survey of minority attorneys to determine what progress had been made and published The 2005 Minority Report. According to the report, minorities in Maryland have made many strides in the legal community over the last 18 years, but challenges remain.

“MSBA’s Committee deserves a great deal of credit for all of its hard work and for such a helpful survey,” states J. Michael Conroy, Jr., MSBA President. “A lot of strides have been made over the years, and things look much better for the future. There are increasing sensitivities to perceptions about what many of our members must deal with, and this is a good thing. We really cannot be too well-educated about items that can cause discomfort to any of our members. We think this report will go a long way toward making our Bar and legal system even better.”

In 1987, the legal landscape was far different than today. The law climate of the ’80s seems somewhat “antiquated” as compared to our high-tech e-market. Women and African Americans were the “minorities” as opposed to our contemporary, multi-ethnic culture. While African Americans were the focal point of MSBA’s 1987 study, with few being found in law schools, law firm partnerships or leadership roles of the profession, the 2005 survey’s focus was multi-cultural, encompassing African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans and other ethnic groups.

Today, African American and women attorneys have progressed to the point where many are major players in the practice of law. The 2005 survey indicates their employment representation, as well as that of Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans, has substantially increased in larger law firms. The report shows minority attorneys now retain certain advantages in developing business for law practices, regardless of the type of practice setting. In addition, their representation on Maryland’s bench, at all levels, has risen.

“Overall, the number of minority attorneys has increased in the last 18 years,” reports Ericka L. Lewis, CMLP Co-Chair. “The report shows a significant increase in the number of female students of color who are graduating from law school and entering the legal profession here in Maryland,” adds Stacey L. Martin, CMLP Co-Chair.

“African American and Asian female attorneys now outnumber their male counterparts, which was certainly not the case in 1987, and the number of Asians and Hispanics enrolling in Maryland’s law schools has increased over the past 18 years,” Martin continues.

“The percentage of minority law school graduates in Maryland who become judicial law clerks upon graduation is also now higher than the national percentage.” Lewis adds. “The number of women judges has increased, too.”

Background

In 1987, MSBA convened a statewide Conference on Minorities in the Legal Profession to examine problems facing minorities in the legal profession and promote cooperation between legal, government and private organizations. At this gathering, over 100 lawyers, judges, business leaders, law school professors and other officials from all parts of Maryland explored the involvement of minorities in key aspects of the legal profession in the late 1980s.

Areas of concerns included law schools, the bar exam, the attorney grievance process, the judicial selection process, business relations and development and the area of employment opportunities. After in-depth discussion over the two-day conference, a number of recommendations were offered in each area. Priorities included: (1) a greater minority presence for the attorney grievance process; (2) a greater representation of minorities in the judiciary; (3) minority recruitment and participation was urged for MSBA Sections and CLE programs; (4) enhanced efforts to ensure that the bar exam was not biased or perceived to be biased against minority candidates; (5) the development of criteria at both state law schools to evaluate academic and social support programs for minority students; and (6) an affirmative commitment to recruit and hire an increasing number of black attorneys on the part of law firms of all sizes.

To pursue these recommendations, MSBA created a Special Committee on Minorities in the Legal Profession. This Committee was reinstituted in 2004-2005 and, after reviewing the 1987 report and recommendations, it launched a retrospective study to measure changes in attitudes and perceptions over the last 18 years. In addition to the original areas of concern, the 2005 survey also included politics and government. Although CMLP devised survey questions, the structure of the survey was created by consultant Debbie Davidson-Gibbs, and it was implemented online via MSBA’s website.

Challenges Ahead

The 2005 report data indicates that, while strides have been made, minorities in today’s legal profession are still underrepresented in Maryland’s law schools and in several areas of law practice. Despite the achievements to date, “there is the continuing issue of whether Maryland law firms and corporate offices are embracing diversity in practice,” explains Lewis. “Information contained in the report is a telling indication that much more still needs to be accomplished in the area of employment of minority attorneys.”

“According to the report, the number of minority associates at Maryland’s largest law firms, compared to national figures, remains low,” she notes. “Several 2005 survey respondents expressed concern and dissatisfaction with the assignments, firm culture and the growth potential for minority attorneys at Maryland law firms. These responses are signs that, although some progress has been made, we still have a long way to go.”

In addition, Martin states, “the average salary for female minority attorneys remains significantly lower than the average salary for minority male attorneys and all non-minority attorneys. Also, the number of African Americans enrolling in Maryland’s law schools has decreased in recent years.”

The survey indicates that minority attorneys still tend to begin their legal careers in government as opposed to the private practice of law and questions whether the state’s contested judicial election process is fair to minorities. It also expresses concern over the low number of attorneys, especially minority attorneys, serving in Maryland’s Legislature.

As part of its action plan, CMLP hopes to: organize attorney visits to schools to encourage legal careers; encourage young minority attorneys to teach law school courses; track the tenure of minority associates in large law firms; host roundtable discussions with minority associates in large firms to identify challenges faced in obtaining partnership; and sponsor a Legislative Shadow Day where young minority lawyers spend time with minority lawyer-legislators during the session.

In the last 18 years, minorities have made steady progress in Maryland’s legal profession. “MSBA, through its Committee on Minorities in the Legal Profession, raised Maryland’s energy level with respect to diversity in the legal community. Now, even more than in 1987, we must not let that energy die down into complacency,” states Karren Pope-Onwukwe, former CMLP Chair. The report offers an action plan to address the challenges that lie ahead.

Overall, the efforts of MSBA and its Committee have gone a long way to ensure that the challenges of minorities in the legal profession have been effectively addressed. MSBA’s Committee will continue to address these challenges so that our profession reflects the same principles of fairness and justice within our ranks that it collectively affirms and promotes to the general public.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: November 2005

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