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The future of legal industry diversity

With its emergence in the middle of the 12th century, the legal profession has seen much evolvement over the centuries. The profession has established for itself a community of various categories of people practicing law. According to various academic researchers and ancient books, the judiciary became more prominent in the 13th century. Earlier, there used to be two categories of lawyers- the serjeants(pleaders who spoke for the clients) and attorneys (who handled the procedural matters).

Since the evolvement of this sector, the topic of the future of legal diversity has raised many debates and questions. Legal diversity is fairly a self-explanatory term. While the concept of diversity fundamentally involves persons of every gender, background, age, race, sexual orientation, and disability, legal diversity implies creating a diverse and inclusive workplace in which everyone benefits from equal treatment and opportunities irrespective of the cultural constructs mentioned above.

Why do we need a diverse legal system?

  • The legal system must be consistent with the progress, which human society made, not only economically but also, socially and culturally.

  • Diversity helps in creating a better reflection of society as a whole, enabling the firms and departments to serve their clients more efficiently. A diverse workplace increases chances of employee engagement and retention.

  • Diversity breeds innovation. When people belong to different backgrounds, their way of handling situations is different, which leads to the emergence of new ideas.

  • Diversification helps in attracting more clients.

  • Diversification in the legal field will strengthen people's belief in the fair delivery of justice, regardless of the background of the plaintiff and defendant.

Case study: Diversity in the legal sector of the United States

  • According to the American Bar Association, the legal profession is the least diverse field of profession in the U.S

  • Between 2009 and 2016, the percentage of female lawyers increased by less than 1%.

  • 47% of associates are female, and 27% are people of color. Also, 75% of law firm partners are male, and 89% are of Caucasian origin.

  • In 2007, 4% of attorneys were identified as African-American and 4% as Hispanic. Ten years later, their percentage increased only up to 5%, even though African-Americans make up 13.3% of the total population and Hispanics account for 17.8%.

  • On January 1st, 2020, there were 1,328,692 active lawyers in the United States, which is about 10% more than the previous decade. However, this increase doesn't reflect growth in diversity.

  • This inequality becomes more obvious as we move up the ladder. According to the reports by 2019 Vault/ MCCA, 16% of the partners promoted in 2018 were attorneys of color as compared to 14% in 2017. Minority attorneys now represent 10% of all partners and 9% of equity partners. On the brighter side, this is a significant increase in minority representation.

Case study: Diversity in the legal sector of India

  • According to the International Labor Organization report of 2018, India has one of the world’s largest gender gaps in unpaid care work.

  • In a country, where 48% of the population is female, of 245 judges who have made it to India’s highest court, including the current judges, less than 3.3% have been women. Moreover, no woman has ever served as the chief justice of India.

  • At the lower level of the judiciary, states offer reservation policies. These encourage women to enter the legal system. Hence there is a greater gender representation. Still, in many places lack of participation poses a threat to the future of the legal industry.

  • Unlikely, the higher judiciary has a collegium system, which is opaque and, therefore, more likely to reflect bias. Consider the following data by the economic and political weekly, published in January 2020. In 17 states, between 2007 and 2017, 36.45% of judges and magistrates were women. In comparison, 11.75% of women joined as district judges through direct recruitment over the same period. This shows that the proportion of women judges decreases, as we move up the tiers of the lower judiciary.

  • Factors of age and family responsibilities also play a crucial role when affecting the elevation of women judges from the subordinate judicial services to the higher courts.

Apart from this, countries have their approach to make the judiciary more inclusive.

1. In the United Kingdom, a 'judicial diversity task force' is set up. It comprises the ministry of justice, senior members of the judiciary, the judicial appointments commission (JAC), the bar council, the law society, and the chartered institute of legal executives.

2. South Africa has a constitutional mandate to maintain a reflection of its social composition in its judiciary, which includes both, racial and gender composition.

Steps to improve future legal diversity

  • Implementing dedicated mentoring programs

Many organizations are implementing diversity mentorship programs that help in creating an inclusive atmosphere. They support diverse populations in terms of career growth and can improve diversity in leadership roles by establishing clear career paths for certain demographics. They also provide a network of support and knowledge for employees.

  • Using data and metrics to make better decisions on diversity and inclusion in law firms

An effective way to improve diversity in legal firms is to measure the efforts. By using data to track and measure the success of a firm’s D&I initiatives, it can:

  • Learn what’s working and what’s not- By using proper data the firm can, for example, track the change in percentage of non-white employees, within a specific time frame. It will provide them a clear framework as to what changes need to be brought.

  • Become transparent- If a firm is clear with its intention and hence communicates with its employees about the measures they are using to track specific diversity goals, their intentions become clear. This makes the process feel fairer to everyone.

  • Make D&I goals imperative to its business

  • Take a top-down approach

While making suitable changes, special attention must be paid to leadership roles. Instead of just focusing on hiring diverse candidates, we need to evaluate the composition of the leadership team.

  • Attract and retain diverse candidates

When a firm hires more candidates of diverse backgrounds, its reputation as an inclusive and diverse workforce, grows. This increases the chances of attracting more talented and skilled labour. While diversity plays an important role in employee retention, it creates a specific problem in the legal industry. The below data reflects how women and attorneys of colour leave their firms at a disproportionally high rate.

  • Women of colour represented less than 10% of all attorneys but over 13% of attorneys who left their firms in 2019.

  • African American or Black attorneys represented fewer than 4% of all attorneys but nearly 6% of attorney departures.

  • Asian American attorneys represented less than 8% of all attorneys but over 10% of departures.


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