Diversity isn’t only an issue among the legal profession’s attorney ranks. Within the profession as a whole, there is a jarring discrepancy between the rates at which women and minorities ll high-level positions such as judges or equity partners, compared with non-attorney roles, including paralegals and legal assistants.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while women made up 37.4 percent of attorneys and 32.3 percent of judicial of officers in 2018, they accounted for 86.4 percent of paralegals and legal assistants.
And while the legal profession is overall vastly white, there are still some stark discrepancies in racial demographics between the different positions. For example, the proportion of Latinx people in paralegal and legal assistant roles at 18.5 percent is about three times higher than the proportion of Latinx attorneys, which is 6.7 percent. For blacks in the profession, it’s 11.3 percent compared with 5.5 percent.
The demographic information from the BLS only includes data on sex and race and does not include information such as LGBTQ identities. It also does not include race information on Native American or Alaskan natives.
A few experts in diversity of the legal profession say these types of discrepancies between different positions don’t come as a surprise. And address- ing them is largely a matter of tackling the profession’s “leaky pipeline” as a whole.
“It is complex because it’s not just obviously at this one place where the pipeline is leaky,” said Alli Gerkman, a senior director at the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. “The pipeline is leaky from basically elementary school on through the end of college. … That pool, then, of prospective law students is already smaller than it is for the groups that are going to law school in higher numbers.”
Maria Arias, executive director of Law School…Yes We Can, knows first-hand what it feels like to not have a role model she could identify with as a Latina attorney. “A lot of times when I speak, I tell people that when I was younger, I wanted to be Perry Mason,” she said. “So what does that say? That says I didn’t see someone who looks like me, but I knew I wanted to be a lawyer.”
Arias said she believes Law School… Yes We Can addresses an underserved need for mentorship for first-generation college students who may not have a socioeconomic support network for upward mobility that students from more privileged backgrounds may have.