Diversity in the Legal Profession
A few months ago I attended a luncheon where the topic was diversity on the Florida bench, or more accurately, the lack of it.
Although great strides have been made, there is still much work to do until our state’s judiciary reflects the rich heritage and varied experiences of its residents. A few numbers tell the story. According to the most recent federal census, 65.4 percent of the state population is Caucasian that is not of Hispanic or Latino origin, while 16.8 percent are Hispanic or Latino, and 14.6 percent are Black or African-American. Overall, 51.2 percent of our residents are women.
Compare those with the statistics for our judiciary. As of late last year, of our 872 jurists, 86.5 percent were white, 6.5 percent were African-American, 6.1 percent were Hispanics, and 24.4 percent were female. White males, a statistical minority of our overall population, make up just over two thirds of our judges.
At the luncheon, it struck me that unless we have diversity at the Bar, we will never have diversity on the bench. Furthermore, if we do not have diversity among those passing the bar exam, we will not have diversity in the Bar, and we will not have diversity among those passing the bar exam until we have diversity in our law schools. (Bar studies show that 89 percent of our membership is white; eight percent is Hispanic; and two percent is African-American. Women, who now make up about half of law school admissions, have increased to 30 percent of the Bar’s membership.)
Our law schools are doing their part. Recent studies show that minorities are being admitted in nearly the same proportion they occupy in the population at large. The Florida Legislature created the new public law schools at Florida International University in Miami and Florida A&M University in Orlando to boost minority participation in the profession, and both report that more than half of their classes are minorities.
That’s a good start, but more needs to be done. To help, I met with Bob Butterworth, dean of the St. Thomas University Law School, and he has volunteered to hold a symposium in April on diversity in the legal profession. The Bar’s Equal Opportunities in the Law Section will be assisting and Dean Butterworth, section Chair Tammy Fields, Bar Board of Governors member Henry Latimer, and Miami attorney Maryanne Lukacs, who is chairing the event, have all committed to participate.
The Bar is also working on other ways to help law students. The Professionalism Committee has begun an e-mentoring program that matches practicing Bar members with students. As of this writing, it has attracted more law students than lawyers, and we can use your help. Visit the Bar’s Web site at www.flabar.org to sign up; click on Professionalism on the left side menu and then scroll down to the E-Mentoring Program item. I am also talking with FAMU law school Dean Percy Luney to work out programs to mentor his students.
Diversity is the future of our state, our profession, and our judiciary. Working together now to encourage diversity is the best way to guarantee the future of all three.
Today is a great day to be a Florida lawyer. I am proud to be one. You should be too.