The Florida Bar

Minorities in the Legal Profession

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

I. Issue

Minorities are significantly underrepresented in the legal profession compared with 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 an unbiased system of justice, bar organizations have taken significant measures to promote equal opportunity.

II. 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.

The Florida Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct (Rule 4­8.4(d)) 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 characteristic.

The Florida Bar’s Standing Board Policies call for fair representation of women and minorities in Bar groups:

1.40 (a) Appointments Policy. It is the bar’s policy to ensure that all members, including women and minorities, have equal opportunities to be appointed to committee membership, committee leadership, and other positions.

Every year, the Bar sponsors the Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Leadership Academy, which seeks to enhance the skills of a diverse and inclusive group of lawyers selected from across the state and enable them to become effective leaders throughout the Bar, the profession and the greater community.

The Bar’s “Diversity in the Legal Profession” webpage offers resources as well as a link to “Inclusion the Path to Unity – Get Involved,” which invites all Florida Bar members to get involved in one or more of The Florida Bar’s sections, divisions or committees.

III. Background and Florida Bar Involvement

Since the 1980s, The Florida Bar, the American Bar Association, the Supreme Court of Florida and the Florida Legislature have worked to increase diversity in the legal profession. What follows is a chronology of those efforts:

1984: Thirty-four years after the first black lawyers were admitted to the American Bar Association – the ABA created the Task Force on Minorities in the Legal Profession.

1986: In January, 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 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, to urge positive actions and suggest specific programs designed to integrate minority lawyers into the profession and judiciary. (In 2000, it became the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession.)

The first meeting of the commission was Dec.12-14, 1986. The commission was responsible for coordinating activities related to legal education opportunities, the processes for hiring and promotion, and minority issues throughout the profession. The commission also was responsible for addressing minority judicial opportunities and bar association minority concerns on the national and local level.

1989: The Florida Bar appointed the Commission on Equal Opportunities in the Profession for a two­year term to address the low representation of minorities in Florida’s legal community, the lack of minority participation within the Bar and the means by which to improve opportunities in Florida for minority lawyers. The commission created the Outside Counsel Program, modeled after the ABA’s successful Minority Outside Counsel Demonstration Program, to help minority attorneys become outside counsel to corporations and governmental agencies.

1989: The chief justice of the Supreme Court of Florida 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.”

1990: The Commission on Equal Opportunities in the Profession surveyed Bar membership to ascertain the level of participation of minorities in the legal profession and determine any barriers to participation.

1990–1991: In December 1990, the Supreme Court’s Racial and Ethnic Bias Study Commission issued its report, and in 1991, it issued 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.

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

1992: The “Membership Attitude Survey Report and Recommendations’ from the Commission on Equal Opportunities in the Profession 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.

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

1999–2000: The Equal Opportunities in the Profession Committee merged with the Special Committee for Gender Equality, and became the Equal Opportunities Law Section.

2000: The Legislature voted to create two new law schools – one in South Florida at Florida International University and one for FAMU in Central Florida. The bill was signed 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.

2004: The chief justice issued an administrative order creating the Standing Committee on Fairness and Diversity. The committee was established to advance the State Courts System’s efforts to eliminate from court operations inappropriate bias based on race, gender, ethnicity, age, disability or socioeconomic status.

2010: In May, The Florida Bar Board of Governors approved a “Definition of Diversity”: “The term ‘diversity’ has a dynamic meaning that changes as the demographics of Floridians change. Apart from differences in race, color, gender, national origin, religion, age, sexual orientation, citizenship, and geography, to mention a few, the public and our profession will experience changes in thought, culture, and beliefs. These demographics are constantly in flux. Defining ‘diversity’ based on current differences would limit its application to future changes, and likewise restrict or limit The Florida Bar’s consideration of and response to such changes.”

Also in 2010, the board approved a “Commitment to Promoting Diversity”: “The Florida Bar is fully committed to the enhancement of diversity within the Bar, the legal profession, legal education, and in the justice system, and affirms its commitment toward a diverse and inclusive environment with equal access and equal opportunity for all.”

2013: The Bar’s Equal Opportunities Law Section merged with the Special Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, which in turn became the Bar’s Standing Committee on Diversity & Inclusion. The mission of the committee is: “To increase diversity and inclusion in The Florida Bar so that the Bar will reflect the demographics of the state, to develop opportunities for community involvement, and to make leadership roles within the profession and The Florida Bar accessible to all attorneys, including those who are racially, ethnically and culturally diverse, women, members of the LGBT community and persons with disabilities.”

With the formation of the Standing Committee on Diversity & Inclusion, the Board of Governors recommended: making sure that each Bar section and division had an ex-officio member on the new standing committee; increasing communications to sections, divisions, committees, voluntary bars and Bar members about the Bar’s diversity and inclusion initiatives; supporting diversity and inclusion in both Standing Board Policies and the Bar’s Strategic Plan; working with sections to broaden opportunities for minorities to become involved; and tracking diversity and inclusion initiatives within the Bar and related entities, including nominations for judicial nominating commissions, and “measuring participation of minorities in leadership positions and in Florida Bar CLE presentations.”

2014: Then-Bar President Eugene Pettis appointed an 11-member President’s Task Force to Study the Enhancement of Diversity on the Bench and the Judicial Nominating Commissions. A survey of Florida lawyers found that 82 percent of blacks, 69 percent of those of Asian descent and 55 percent of Hispanics said that lawyers from diverse racial or ethnic groups do not have the same chance as other candidates to be chosen for membership on JNCs. The task force issued a report with 10 recommendations to increase diversity among JNC members and appointed judges.

2016: The Young Lawyers Division of The Florida Bar released findings from its “2015 YLD Survey on Women in the Legal Profession,” suggesting that young female attorneys continue to feel held back by gender stereotypes. (More on that survey can be found in the “Women in the Law/Gender Bias” background paper.)

The chief justice by administrative order re-affirmed the Standing Committee on Fairness and Diversity over the next two years and directed it to: continue to coordinate and collaborate with The Florida Bar, local bar associations, community organizations, Florida law schools and other partners, for the purpose of advancing fairness and diversity initiatives within the Florida justice system; explore funding opportunities for fairness and diversity education programs; and continue efforts with its education campaign. The Diversity Education Campaign was charged with reviewing “Results of 2015 YLD Survey on Women in the Legal Profession” and making recommendations about educational needs to assist with combating gender and other biases.

The Voluntary Bar Association 2016-2017 Diversity Leadership Grant program was created to support initiatives and programs that encourage diversity, diversity training and dialogue among lawyers in Florida through financial support of conferences, seminars, summits and symposiums planned and hosted by local and specialty bar associations.

2017: Florida Bar President-elect Michael J. Higer, upon appointment by President William J. Schifino, Jr., led a special committee studying gender and diversity issues, with the goal of making concrete recommendations to the Board of Governors.

IV. Facts and Statistics

  • According to the 2010 Census, the U.S. population was 72.4 percent white and 27.6 percent nonwhite (12.6 percent black and 4.8 percent Asian). It also was 16.3 percent Hispanic (Hispanic was not listed under “race”).
  • Representation by women and minorities nationwide in the legal profession is lower than in most comparable professions. About 35.7 percent of lawyers are women, 4.4 percent are black, 5.6 percent are Hispanic and 4.7 percent are Asian. That compares with accountants and auditors (61.3 percent women, 8.5 percent black, 9.0 percent Hispanic, 10.9 percent Asian), physicians and surgeons (48.2 percent women, 7.5 percent black, 5.9 percent Hispanic, 19.3 percent Asian), and professional and related professions in general (57.0 percent women, 9.8 percent black, 9.0 percent Hispanic, 9.2 percent Asian). (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016)
  • Among state trial judges in the United States, 80 percent are white, 7 percent are black, 5 percent are Hispanic and 8 percent are “other.” (“The Gavel Gap,” American Constitution Society, as of December 2014)
  • For fall 2016, white students made up 67.4 percent of admitted applicants to ABA-approved law schools; blacks made up 10.7 percent, Hispanics 11.7 percent; and Asians 10.2 percent. Women made up 51 percent. For fall, 2000, the numbers were: 72.1 percent white, 7.4 percent black, 3.6 percent Hispanic, 7.1 percent Asian, and 9.7 percent other or no ethnic identification; 48.9 percent were women. (Law School Admission Council Inc.)
  • According to the 2010 Census, Florida’s demographic makeup was 75 percent white, 16 percent black and 2.4 percent Asian. Hispanics made up 22.5 percent of the population.
  • In 2016, 84 percent of Florida Bar members were white, 10 percent Hispanic, 3 percent black and 1 percent Asian. In 2006, 89 percent of Bar members were white, 7 percent Hispanic, 2 percent black and 2 percent of another minority. In 1996, 93 percent of Bar members were white, 5 percent Hispanic, 2 percent black and 1 percent of another minority. (Florida Bar Economics and Law Office Management Survey)
  • Florida’s two newest public law schools have predominantly minority populations. FAMU’s College of Law’s Fall 2015 entering class was 47 percent black, 17 percent Hispanic and 28 percent non-minority. For 2017, Florida International University College of Law reported that its student body was 56.1 percent Hispanic and 6.9 percent black.
  • Minorities are significantly underrepresented as judges in Florida in proportion to their numbers in the general population, making up only 17.5 percent of the 980 judges in the state; 6.4 percent are black, 10.6 percent are Hispanic and 0.4 percent are Asian. (As of February 2017) In 2007, about 15.1 percent of the 990 judges in the state were minorities: 6.7 percent black, 7.4 percent Hispanic and less than 1 percent of another minority group (Office of the State Court Administrator)
  • Minority women have made significant gains, from 6.7 percent of all judges in 2007 to 9.4 percent in 2017. (Office of the State Court Administrator)

Prepared by The Florida Bar Public Information and Bar Services Department with assistance from the Public Service Programs Department.

[Updated March 2017]