Strike out in new directions, ABA diversity report urges

Approaches to diversity in the legal profession must strike out in new directions, taking an inclusive approach rather than addressing individual affinity groups by race or ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. At the same time, initiatives to enhance diversity must be tailored to the circumstances of different work settings, according to "The Next Steps," the report of the American Bar Association Presidential Initiative Commission on Diversity.

"Building a more diverse profession is not a quick-fix, short-term goal. It is an ongoing campaign, one in which the ABA has been engaged for decades," said ABA President Carolyn B. Lamm, citing an association aim "to see a bench that reflects our population and a profession in which all lawyers have the opportunity to achieve all of which they are capable."

Commission Chair Ellen F. Rosenblum, a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals, called advancing diversity the single greatest challenge to the profession, but said striving for diversity is a fluid process, constantly changing as society evolves. The report, released during the recent ABA 2010 Midyear Meeting in Orlando, calls for a more nuanced approach, recognizing that different types of law firms need different types of diversity programs and policies.

The report asserts four broad rationales for diversity--lawyers and judges have a unique responsibility for sustaining democracy, the profession must be diverse to thrive in a global and domestically inclusive business environment, diversity is critical if the profession wishes to maintain a societal leadership role and changing demographics in society compel the profession to change its own demographics.

Based on testimony gathered in regional hearings, surveys, roundtable discussions and a national summit convened by Immediate Past President H. Thomas Wells Jr., the report identifies trends and emerging issues, cites disappointments and points to new directions. The report's recommendations are directed at law schools and academia, law firms and corporate law departments, government and the judiciary and bar associations.

To view the report online, go to

Published: Thu, Feb 11, 2010