Multiple factors are at play when it comes to Latinx in the legal field. The low percentage of Latinos in the field of law is an issue. Culture, lack of access, lack of overall representation in the media and in real life, and little-to-no outreach efforts to recruit young Latinos to law school. Another issue is the perception that Hispanics/Latinx are funneled towards work in the public sector and in not-for-profit organizations instead of working in BigLaw and earning higher salaries. Last, but not least, is the fact that discrimination is alive and well in the field of law, although things are slowly improving for people of color (PoC) working in fields that have been traditionally dominated by white men.
Why Does Latinx Culture Prevent Latinx Students From Attending Law School?
Latinx culture values hard work with visible results with a majority of Hispanics holding the opinion that “you get better results when you work harder”. There is a lot of truth behind this line of thought, but it overlooks combining the value of higher education with the value of hard work. Many first- and second-generation Latinx are accustomed to the idea of working multiple jobs while raising children to embrace their values. Excelling in scholastic studies is valued, but attaining higher education isn’t always encouraged. The concept of attending college for up to seven years is one that isn’t viewed as productive by Latinx culture. Yet, there are many prominent Latinas who went on to earn their J.D. and find their way to prestigious positions in private and public settings.
Latinx students may find it difficult to overcome familial pressure when they decide to attend law school. Those who decide to pursue their dreams can overcome these pressures and get themselves on an educational track to earn their J.D., and show their families that a professional career also has value.
Another aspect of Latinx culture that holds students back from attending law school is the cost of tuition. Hispanic culture is frugal and holding debt is discouraged. Attending university, then going to law school is expensive for any student, but Latinx students are especially hesitant to take on a large amount of debt that they don’t perceive as being easily paid back. What Latinx families and students may not recognize is the fact that scholarships and other forms of financial assistance can reduce the overall cost of tuition and thus the total amount of debt.
What Kind of Attitudes Does a Latinx Law Student Face When Considering Law School?
The legal profession and educational field recognize the fact that both can do much better when it comes to attracting Latinx/Hispanic students to law school. According to the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA), Latinxs made up about 4% of all lawyers in the U.S. in 2009. That number only improved by 1% by 2019. On the surface, this would suggest that Latinx students are being dissuaded from attending law school due to perceived discrimination. While discrimination is a factor, culture and a lack of encouragement starting in middle school are more to blame.
Most students are taught to start thinking about their careers during middle school but don’t firm them up until high school. Hispanic students who state they want to be a lawyer are more likely to be questioned by teachers and counselors about their choice. It’s normal for people of authority in these settings to challenge students on their career choices, but Latinx students tend to be questioned to the point of dissuasion. By the time a Latinx student reaches the point of their education that leads to the decision to attend law school, they’ll have gone through a lot of pressure from various sources.
Is Law School a Good Option for Latinx Students?
Absolutely. Law school is a great option for Latinx students because it opens up the potential to change the legal field to more fully represent Hispanics and Latinxs. The minority status of Latinxs also infers an advantage in terms of education, school choice, and financial assistance. All colleges and universities have a diversity mandate in that they need to ensure that a portion of their student body has a minimum percentage of PoC, including Latinxs/Hispanics. This increases the odds that someone with Latinx/Hispanic heritage will get accepted into law school. In the same vein, more law firms are seeking to diversify their employee population in order to serve certain populations as well as have a diverse employee roster.
Latinx/Hispanic law students are more likely to face hurdles that turn them away from becoming a lawyer. Many who overcame the hurdles have found their way into prestigious careers, and demonstrate that a career as a lawyer is worth attaining.