African-Americans in the Legal Field

Q. What are the statistics on African Americans in the legal field?

A. When it comes to minorities in the legal field, there are plenty of things to consider. In particular, like many other professional fields, African Americans are underrepresented in the legal field. For instance, when dealing with the top law schools in the country, African Americans in law school only represent around 6% of enrollees. On the other hand, within the lowest ranking and even unaccredited law schools, African Americans only represent 16% of attendees. Therefore, this is a field that could benefit from some added diversity. This is especially the case in the wake of recent racial tensions between the African American community and the police. In fact, despite the fact that African Americans make up 13% of the population, they make up 38% of the prison population. Stats such as these have caused new dialog that asserts there needs to be much more diversity in the legal field.

On the other hand, when it comes to working in the legal field, there are some other interesting stats to consider. For instance, according to the American Bar Association, only 5% of attorneys in this country are African American. Also, interestingly enough, despite the fact that the African American population in places such as North Carolina is higher than many other places (22%), only 9% of attorneys are African American in the state. This shows that there is lots of work to be done in terms of getting more African Americans to work and thrive in the legal field. Also, it’s not just attorney positions that are lacking in diversity; it’s the legal field as a whole. African Americans are only 10% of the legal workforce as a whole. So, this means everything from the legal secretary on up to judge is lacking in terms of African American representation.

Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that these numbers have been stagnant for over ten years. This shows that little to nothing is being done to improve this issue.

Q. What are some of the challenges preventing more African Americans from entering the legal field?

A. In order to get more African Americans in law school and working in the legal field, there are plenty of things that need to be addressed. Some of the most pressing issues are as follows:

  • Financial Hardship: Given that law school is incredibly expensive, there needs to be more financial aid given to African Americans who qualify for law school. The thought of taking on hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans is enough to deter most from pursuing a career in fields such as these. This is especially the case for those who are underrepresented, such as African Americans.
  • Lack of Mentorship: No matter what field of study one chooses to enter, having mentors available to guide up-and-coming professionals is invaluable. However, given the lack of African Americans working in the legal field, there are very few mentors available to guide young African Americans who want to enter the legal field. This serves as a huge deterrent in terms of more African Americans in law school.
  • Societal Norms: One lesser considered challenge is the fact that society tends to dictate which career fields we are most interested in. In general, African Americans are steered to work in fields that are more labor-intensive and intellectual. So, although there are obviously some who choose to enter the legal field, they are often doing so against all odds and advice.

Q. What are some initiatives to get better Black representation in Law?

A. While there are not many initiatives in place to address this issue, there are some starting to be implemented. For instance, the ABA adopted Resolution 113 is one which urges all who work in the legal field to hire a more diverse group of employees. While this does not guarantee these employees will be African American, it is a step in the right direction. Moreover, since the issue has been made public, there are now many high-powered clients who demand to know how diverse a law company is before working with them. This has been a profound method of encouraging law firms to become more diverse. Lastly, the “Black Lawyers Matter” initiative also seems promising. This is an initiative that is said to be an exemplary code that should be implemented by law schools across the country. The goals of this initiative are to give more funding to African American students attending law school while also providing more resources, mentorship, and job opportunities.

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