American Bar Association

29 October 2015

Paulette Brown

Paulette Brown, President of the American Bar Association (ABA), guest blogs for the Bar Council on diversity in the legal profession in the United States. Despite best efforts, racial and ethnic groups, sexual and gender minorities, and lawyers with disabilities continue to be vastly underrepresented. Read how the ABA is aiming to proactively rebuild the nation's confidence in the justice system.


As in England and Wales, the legal profession in the United States has become increasingly diverse, but women and lawyers of colour remain severely underrepresented. 

Since the mid-1980s, more than 40 percent of all law school graduates in the United States have been women and, more recently, individuals of people of colour has reached 25.5 percent.  Yet those numbers have not translated into a truly diversified profession. 

Despite our best efforts, racial and ethnic groups, sexual and gender minorities, and lawyers with disabilities continue to be vastly underrepresented in the legal profession.  A recent study revealed 88 percent of all lawyers in the United States are white. 

The lack of diversity has a wide-reaching impact. Reliable data also shows an increasing lack of public confidence in our nation's justice system. According to a recent Harvard University study, nearly half of young Americans - without regard to race, ethnicity or gender identity - believe the U.S. justice system has racial and ethnic biases.  

As lawyers committed to the pursuit of justice, we have the power to change these perceptions. This year, the ABA will be proactive in rebuilding our nation's confidence in the justice system. By leveraging the power of the ABA's more than 400,000 members, we will promote full and equal diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and the justice system.  

Implicit bias - the subtle and not-so-subtle prejudices we all may unconsciously hold - can be an impediment to diversity and inclusion and to a fair justice system. The ABA will develop educational training materials for judges, prosecutors and public defenders to enhance their knowledge on the subject. 

Diversity and inclusion is important not just to offer individuals a foot in the door. It is also needed to give a wider range of people a seat at the table where they can contribute their unique talents and perspectives.  As Lord David Neuberger noted after the release of "Diversity in the Legal Profession in England and Wales: A Qualitative Study of Barriers and Individual Choices": "If we really want to increase diversity, the program has to be tackled throughout society, in our universities, schools and at home." 

Lawyers have historically been in the vanguard of the legal battles undertaken to ensure that democracy benefits everyone. And millions today enjoy the full rights once denied them based on their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin because of the decades of work done primarily by diverse lawyers. 

In the language of diversity and inclusion, we must be intentional in order to effectuate real and sustained change. We must abide by the words of Charles Hamilton Houston, the great legal mind and architect of the strategy that dismantled legal segregation in the United States, and become social engineers for justice.


Paulette Brown
President of the American Bar Association