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The Florida Bar
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Minorities in the Legal Profession

On This Page
I. Issue
II. Background
III. The Florida Bar Position
IV. Florida Bar involvement
V. Facts and Statistics


I. Issue

Studies have documented that minorities are significantly underrepresented at all levels of the legal profession as compared to their numbers in the general population. Recognizing that the legal profession must not only reflect the diversity of society but also embrace the belief that fair representation and equal access are essential to ensure an unbiased system of justice,many bar organizations on all levels have taken significant measures to promote equal opportunity for minority lawyers.
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II. Background

In February 1984, the American Bar Association (ABA) created the Task Force on Minorities in the Legal Profession, charging it to investigate and report on problems facing minority lawyers and to submit recommendations designed to promote the full integration of minority attorneys into the profession. In January 1986, the ABA issued its "Task Force on Minorities in the Legal Profession: Report With Recommendations." The task force concluded "the legal profession has remained a largely segregated institution in which racial and ethnic minorities lacked equality of opportunity." The report originally made nine recommendations, which were adopted by the ABA: "To promote full and equal participation in the profession by minorities and women." The report also recommended the creation of a Commission on Opportunities for Minorities in the Profession.

In November 1989, The Florida Bar appointed the Commission on Equal Opportunities in the Profession for a two­year term to address the low representation of minority lawyers in Florida's legal community; the lack of minority participation within the Bar; and means by which to improve opportunities in Florida for minority lawyers.

As one of its goals, the commission sought to increase hiring and advancement opportunities for minority lawyers through implementing the Outside Counsel Program. This program was modeled after the ABA's successful Minority Outside Counsel Demonstration Program, which was begun to create opportunities for minority attorneys to become outside counsel to corporations and governmental agencies.

In October 1990, the Commission sought to ascertain the level of participation of minorities in the legal profession and determine any impediments or barriers of participation by surveying the Bar membership. In January 1992, the "Membership Attitude Survey Report and Recommendations" was issued. The report made 14 recommendations, one of which was to have The Florida Bar formally adopt the ABA's goal of promoting full and equal participation in the profession by minorities and women.

In May 1991, The Florida Bar Board of Governors voted to give the commission a permanent presence in the Bar by appointing it as a standing committee. This position allowed the Committee on Equal Opportunities in the Profession to pursue and accomplish its goals: to identify and seek to resolve discrimination within Florida's legal community by increasing hiring and advancement opportunities for minorities and women; improve the passage rate of minority law students; and serve as a clearinghouse for opportunities and concerns of minorities and women who practice law in Florida.

The Supreme Court of Florida also addressed the dearth of minority lawyers at all levels of the legal profession. In 1989, then Chief Justice Raymond Ehrlich issued an administrative order creating the Racial and Ethnic Bias Study Commission. This two­year commission's primary charge was to determine "whether race or ethnicity affects the dispensation of justice in Florida." In December 1990 and 1991 respectively, the Commission issued its report and recommendations covering an array of issues including diversity in the judicial system, re-examination of the adult and juvenile justice systems, law enforcement interaction with minorities, and the unique experiences of minority attorneys in Florida.

On Nov. 19, 2004, the Chief Justice of Florida created the Standing Committee on Fairness and Diversity by Administrative Order AOSC04-225. On Jan. 21, 2005, the Standing Committee held its first meeting in Miami, with the Honorable Gill Freeman presiding as chairperson. The committee was established to advance the State Court System’s efforts to eliminate from court operations inappropriate bias based on race, gender, ethnicity, age, disability or socioeconomic status.

Bills were introduced in the 1993 and 1999 Legislatures to create a third public law school. (The other two public law schools are at Florida State University and the University of Florida). A controversy developed as to whether that new law school would be associated with state's historically black university (Florida A&M) or the only university with a near majority of Hispanic students (Florida International University).

On May 2, 2000, the Florida Senate voted unanimously to create two new law schools -- one in South Florida at Florida International University and one for FAMU in Central Florida. After House passage, the governor signed the bill into law.

In August 2002, the FAMU College of Law and the Florida International University College of Law opened their doors. These schools were created to encourage minority students to pursue law.
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III. The Florida Bar Position

In July 1993, The Florida Bar became one of a handful of state bars to adopt specific language proscribing discriminatory practices by lawyers. In its Rules of Professional Conduct (Chapter 4), the Bar amended Rule 4­8.4(d) Misconduct, to include the following language:

A lawyer shall not:
(d) engage in conduct in connection with the practice of law that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, including to knowingly, or through callous indifference, disparage, humiliate, or discriminate against litigants, jurors, witnesses, court personnel, or other lawyers on any basis, including but not limited to, on account of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, employment, or physical characteristics; . . .

The Board of Governors, at the recommendation of the Bar's Special Committee for Gender Equality in the Profession and with endorsement of the Committee on Equal Opportunities in the Profession, adopted a new aspirational policy -- 1.40(a) -- calling for fair representation of women and minorities in Bar groups:

"It is the policy of The Florida Bar to ensure that all members, including women and minorities, have equal opportunities to be appointed to committee membership, committee leadership, and other positions."
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IV. Florida Bar involvement

By establishing the Committee on Equal Opportunities in the Profession and with the support of the Board of Governors, the Bar took significant steps to increase participation by minority lawyers in Bar activities as well as the number of minorities entering the legal profession. Implementing and continued development of the Committee's Business Development Conference has created and expanded opportunities for minority attorneys to serve as outside counsel to governmental agencies and private companies in Florida.

The Young Lawyers Division commissioned a study by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems based in Tallahassee regarding how best to increase minority members studying to be lawyers. Although the analysts found that minorities are seriously under-represented in the legal profession, they recommended additional scholarships and expanded part­time opportunities for student enrollment.

In 1999-2000, the Special Committee for Gender Equality merged with the Equal Opportunities in the Profession Committee, and was called the Equal Opportunity Law Section. This section was established to fulfill the need for a forum committed to fostering diversity in the legal profession in Florida and is active in sponsoring seminars and educating attorneys and the public on diversity, civil rights, discrimination law, women’s issues and disability issues.

In June 2004, The Florida Bar Board of Governors held a diversity symposium where they approved funding for two surveys proposed to get a more accurate picture of the Bar's ethnic makeup and to survey minority bar associations as to why more minorities are not participating in Bar activities.

One result of this program was the formation of the Member Outreach Committee. The committee was formed by the Bar’s 56th President, Kelly Overstreet Johnson, following the first diversity symposium. The committee works with The Bar’s Equal Opportunities Law Section in planning and funding the symposium and other diversity initiatives. The importance of the committee to The Bar is evident by its make up and function. The committee is chaired by the president-elect and the Bar president attends all of its committee meetings.

One successful and easily duplicated initiative of the Member Outreach Committee was the development of a Master Calendar of bar events around the state that is accessible from The Florida Bar’s Web site -- www.floridabar.org. The calendar contains listings of all Florida Bar and voluntary bar events, including all minority bar associations. This encourages members who might not otherwise go to The Bar’s Web site to look at it for events in their local communities. Additionally, it has increased communications and thus improved relationships between The Florida Bar and voluntary bars, particularly the minority bar associations. Finally, it has made it easier for bar leaders to attend and support events and programs sponsored by the various minority bar associations.
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V. Facts and Statistics

~ Minorities are significantly underrepresented as judges in Florida in proportion to their numbers in the general population, comprising only 15.1 percent of the 990 judges in the state: 6.7 percent are reported to be African American, 7.4 percent are Hispanic and less than 1 percent are of another minority group (Office of the State Court Administrator, February 2007).

~ Minority women, at 6.7 percent of all judges, are particularly scarce in Florida’s judiciary (see above reference).

~ The overall student population for Florida law schools during the 2004-05 school year was 6,605. Of that number, approximately 66.3 percent were white, 8.75 percent were black/ African American, 13.5 percent were Hispanic, 3.39 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, .61 percent were American Indian and 7.45 percent were of other races and nationalities.

~ It is worth noting that Florida's two newest public law schools have predominantly minority populations. FAMU's College of Law has a population of 45.9 percent black/African-American full-time students and 33.9 percent black/African American part-time students. (2005-2006 FAMU College of Law Enrollment Numbers) For 2007, Florida International University College of Law has a population of 40.8 percent Hispanic.

~ According to the 2000 Census, the U.S. population was 24.9 percent non-white. Racial or ethnic minority representation accounts for 9.7 percent of all lawyers. While this is an increase of 2.1 percent since 1990, when minorities represented 7.6 percent of the profession, the numbers still do not reflect minority representation in the general population. Among all lawyers, black/ African- Americans comprise 3.9 percent, Asian Americans comprise 2.3 percent, Hispanics comprise 3.3 percent, and American Indians comprise 0.2 percent. Among judges, 15.9 percent reported as racial or ethnic minorities: African Americans comprise 8.8 percent, Asian Americans comprise 1.7 percent, Hispanics comprise 4.5 percent, and American Indians comprise 0.8 percent. Combining lawyers and judges, minorities comprise 10.08 percent of the legal profession (The Status of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the American Bar Association, 2006-2007 Goal IX Report).

~ There has been little change in the percentage of minority attorneys since 1999 (2005 Florida Bar Membership Opinion Survey).

~ Four-fifths of all respondents (80 percent) are either rarely involved or not involved at all in various Bar programs, services or activities (2005 Membership Opinion Survey).

~ Minorities comprise slightly more than 20 percent of the 2,056 members on standing committees of The Florida Bar: 13 percent are Hispanic, 6 percent are African American, 1 percent Asian/Pacific Islander and less than 1 percent are of another minority group (The Florida Bar, September 2006).

~ More than two-fifths of all respondents (42 percent) cite time constraints as their primary reason for not being more involved with various Bar programs, services or activities (2005 Florida Bar Membership Opinion Survey).

~ Three percent of respondents report that they have an ADA-recognized disability (2006 Florida Bar Economics and Law Office Management Survey).

~ Hispanic and African Americans made up 16.8 percent and 15.5 percent respectively of Florida's population, according to the 2000 Census.

~ Minority representation in the legal profession is significantly lower than in most professions. The total minority representation among lawyers is about 9.7 percent, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, compared to 20.8 percent among accountants and auditors, 24.6 percent among physicians and surgeons, and 18.2 percent among college and university teachers (Miles to Go: Progress of Minorities in the Legal Profession, 2005).

~ No single minority group in the United States accounts for more than 4 percent of the lawyers in the United States (Law School Admissions Council, February 2007).

~ For fall 2004, white students made up nearly 65 percent of all applicants to ABA-accredited law schools. The same group of applicants consisted of 10.6 percent African Americans; 8.5 percent Asians, and 7.9 percent for Hispanics (Law School Admission Council).

~ According to the 2006 Florida Bar fee statement, of 54,734 respondents, 47,064 are white, 4,469 are Hispanic, 1,767 are African American, 628 are Asian or Pacific Islander and 68 are American Indian or Alaskan.

~ The 1996 Economics and Law Office Management Survey indicated that approximately 93 percent of Bar members were white, 5 percent were Hispanic, 2 percent were African American and 1 percent were of another minority.

~ The 2006 Economics and Law Office Management Survey indicates that approximately 89 percent of Bar members are white, 7 percent are Hispanic, 2 percent are African American, and 2 percent are of another minority.


Prepared by The Florida Bar Public Information and Bar Services Department with assistance from the Public Service Programs Department.
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[Revised: 2/21/07]