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Economic Woes a Diversity Killer in the Legal Profession?

September 9, 2011

The stubborn gender and racial gaps in the legal profession, especially in its higher tiers, are no headline news. This blog has tackled the topic, discussing organizational psychology research showing the benefits of diverse leadership. But it warrants revisitation in light of a distressing article in yesterday’s L.A. Times. In discussing the ouster of Sally Krawcheck, Bank of America’s president of global wealth management, the article pointed out that Wall Street belt tightening has led to layoffs of women at a rate more than 40% above that of men. At the same time, a number of prominent women executives have been sent packing. In the legal profession, female law grads are no longer a minority, but female and other diverse attorneys still are, particularly in leadership positions. There is anecdotal evidence and some preliminary statistics indicating that diverse attorneys have been affected more severely by the economy’s woes.

Given the small but real progress of the legal profession’s efforts to increase diversity, this trend is a potential catastrophe. If anything, these difficult economic times should serve as an opportunity to question convention. By addressing some of the systemic barriers to legal profession diversity, forward-thinking legal employers stand to reap a concomitant competitive advantage and flourish once we’ve weathered the economic storm. At minimum, this means doubling down on recruiting, training, mentoring, and cultivation of an inclusive workplace environment. Something that made the United States economy great in the 20th century was the inclusion of the talents of women and minorities ahead of most of the developed world. It’s time to do the same in a broad, meaningful manner in the legal profession.

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