Letter from the President

Originally published in the printed bar journal, Communiqué (September 2016).

The Importance of Diversity

Catherine M. Mazzeo is Assistant General Counsel at Southwest Gas Corporation. She serves as President of the Clark County Bar Association through December 2016, and encourages you to visit www.clarkcountybar.org for the latest bar news and a calendar of upcoming events.

The CCBA was honored to have the 2015-2016 American Bar Association President, Paulette Brown, as a guest at our July luncheon. President Brown is a labor and employment and commercial litigation attorney, a former municipal court judge, in-house counsel to multiple Fortune 500 companies, and the first woman of color to serve as ABA President.

When this issue of the Communiqué goes to print, President Brown will have transitioned to the position of Immediate Past President; however, one of her most enduring accomplishments is her effort to bring attention to the issues of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. According to various sources, the legal profession is the least diverse in the nation. The statistics cited in a Washington Post article last year are jaw-dropping:

  • 88% of lawyers are white (compared to 81% of architects, 78% of accountants, and 72% of physicians and surgeons).
  • Women comprise approximately one-third of the legal profession, but only about one-fifth of law firm partners, law school deans, and general counsels at Fortune 500 companies.
  • African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos and Native-Americans comprise approximately a fifth of law school graduates, but represent less than 7% of law firm partners and 9% of general counsels.
  • Only 3% of the associates (and less than 2% of the partners) in major U.S. law firms are African-American.
  • Men are two to five times more likely to make partner than women.

Deborah L. Rhode, “Law is the least diverse profession in the nation. And lawyers aren’t doing enough to change that.” Washington Post (May 27, 2015).

So how is it possible that in the year 2016, themes found in century-old cases like Dred Scott (African-American man deemed not to be a citizen within the meaning of the Constitution) and Bradwell v. Illinois (female denied admission to Illinois Bar – the concurring opinions observing that the timidity and delicacy of the female gender rendered women unfit to practice law, and that the profession conflicted with their natural role as wives and mothers) arguably continue to infiltrate our profession? There are some that don’t realize (or choose to ignore) the fact that diversity is the right thing to do. But even for those who recognize the importance of diversity, ensuring that it exists in their law firms and corporate legal departments is sometimes challenging. Here are some suggestions:

  • Make the business case for diversity – A law firm that does not practice diversity will have a harder time attracting and connecting with a diverse client base. And in the corporate setting, large clients often steer their business to firms committed to diversity.
  • Evaluate (and modify) your hiring practices – Make sure recruiters, hiring committees and job candidates know that diversity is an important factor in your hiring decisions. When hiring law clerks and first year associates, interview at law schools with large numbers of women and minority students.
  • Mentor – Whether it is formal or informal, make sure your firm or legal department has a mentoring program, and that mentors reach out to mentees of different genders, races, ethnic backgrounds, etc. Encourage all attorneys to participate in minority bar associations.

For more information on this topic, I encourage you to visit the ABA’s Diversity and Inclusion Portal at http://www.americanbar.org/diversity-portal.html.