Denver Bar Association
October 2007
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Survey Says...Diversity in Denver’s Legal Profession

by Jewlya Lynn, PhD, Denise McHugh, JD
Center for Systems Integration


Background: Diversifying the legal profession has been a priority of the Deans’ Diversity Council and Colorado Campaign for Inclusive Excellence; the CBA/DBA Diversity in the Legal Profession Committee; the specialty bar associations; and the Colorado Pledge to Diversity Legal Group, which is composed of more than 25 firms and corporate legal departments. These committees and organizations have been actively addressing diversity through mentoring programs, summer associate programs, and changes in recruitment and retention practices within individual legal organizations. The concept of "inclusive excellence" has helped to shape these efforts. It is the explicit recognition that diversification is about more than numbers; it is about imbedding practices and philosophies that encourage and support diversity in every aspect of an organization.

As highlighted in the May issue of The Docket, the Colorado Pledge to Diversity Legal Group sponsored a survey, conducted by the Center for Systems Integration and the Colorado Institute of Public Policy, to learn about perceptions of diversity in the Denver legal community. For survey purposes, diversity was defined as racial and ethnic diversity and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered diversity. More than 5,000 attorneys in the Denver-metro area were sent an online survey. Almost 1,000 attorneys responded to the survey, one-quarter of whom identified themselves as a member of a diverse group. One-third of survey respondents are employed by Pledge to Diversity Group organizations.

The survey results covered five key areas:

1. Demographics: Basic information about the legal careers of respondents;

2. Pipeline: How new attorneys enter the profession;

3. Recruitment: How attorneys are recruited into their positions;

4. Retention: The climate within legal organizations, including respondents’ job satisfaction, sense of isolation, and discrimination witnessed or experienced while in their current organization; and

5. Best Practices: The diversity practices in the respondents’ organizations, such as mentoring programs, diversity committees, and trainings.

Demographics: The survey found that heterosexual, white males are much more likely to have more than 20 years of experience in the legal field, be partners in their organization, work in private law firms, and have higher incomes than female, racially and ethnically diverse, and GLBT attorneys.

Pipeline: Racially and ethnically diverse respondents are more likely than other respondents — particularly respondents from Pledge to Diversity Group organizations — to be the first in their families to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees, including legal degrees.

Recruitment: When racially and ethnically diverse attorneys sought their current job, they often learned about it through career services at their school or through advertisements, which suggests that these are important ways to recruit diverse attorneys. With respect to their current organization, racially and ethnically diverse and GLBT attorneys had dramatically different views on recruitment practices compared to heterosexual, white males surveyed. These ethically diverse and GLBT attorneys did not believe efforts to recruit diverse applicants are adequate, and they were more likely to report that diverse applicants must have better qualifications than non-diverse applicants to be hired. Respondents from Pledge to Diversity Group organizations also were more likely to believe applicants have been hired specifically to increase diversity.

Retention: Most attorneys answering the survey were satisfied with their current professional position; however, female, racially and ethnically diverse, and GLBT attorneys were more likely to report that they were not satisfied, particularly with their access to clients and advancement opportunities. Diverse respondents also were more likely to report that they felt isolated in their current positions, have experienced discrimination, and were actively seeking other employment.

Best Practices: Respondents from Pledge to Diversity Group organizations were much more likely to report that best practices, such as the CEO communicating a clear message about diversity, formal policies on diversity, an active and effective diversity committee, and mentoring programs, are underway in their organization. These practices appear to have had some impact, as most attorneys reported that their organizations are doing enough to address diversity and inclusiveness issues. However, those attorneys who reported having witnessed or experienced discrimination were much more likely to disagree that their organization was doing enough, regardless of best practices in place. Racially and ethnically diverse, GLBT and female attorneys were more likely to report having witnessed or experienced discrimination. Examples of discrimination given by respondents often included actions taken not only by colleagues in their organization, but also by clients.

Overall, the survey findings indicate that diverse attorneys have different perceptions and experiences of the legal environment in Denver and within their organizations. This information can provide guidance as to the issues that may need more effort than others. It also provides a baseline by which to measure the future progress the many Colorado groups working on diversity and inclusiveness in the legal profession. For the full report, visit: http://www.cobar.org/Docs/Survey%20Report.pdf.


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