Symposium Explores Importance of Diversity in the Legal Profession
Web Editor - Published: April 30, 2013
“Young people are never too young to be exposed to members of the profession who are also minorities like themselves,” said the Honorable John L. Braxton, Senior Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County and former treasurer for the National Bar Association as he spoke at the “Diversity in the Legal Profession” symposium presented by the Widener Journal of Law, Economics and Race on the evening of Thursday, April 25, 2013.

Widener Journal of Law, Economics and Race Editor-in-Chief Peter Galick welcomed everyone to the symposium, the third in an annual series that began in 2011. He introduced Dean Linda L. Ammons, who spoke in glowing terms about the work of the journal staff and noted that the symposium’s topic was a timely one as we “wait to hear from the U.S. Supreme Court on these issues.”

The evening’s keynote speaker, Penn State Law Professor and Associate Dean Carla D. Pratt, spoke first, presenting “African American Attorneys: Navigating the Pipeline from Birth to Bar,” and discussing the findings from a study she conducted with a colleague about the reason there are few African American attorneys. She touched on the importance of mentors and positive recognition to encourage young people and covered the issue of the “Talented Tenth,” that leads to the top ten percent of African American students being focused on while the other 90% are being written off. She concluded by noting that despite an initial belief that it was not necessary, the study convinced her that it was in fact beneficial to target programs at children of elementary school age.

Speaking next, Braxton talked about the efforts of the National Bar Association, which is the oldest and largest association of African American judges and lawyers in the country. He too emphasized the importance of encouraging young people and concluded, “The pipeline means just that – you’re there and you’re a resource for them.”

Isla L. Long, a partner at Pepper Hamilton LLP, discussed the importance of making the business case for diversity. She touched on how best to do so, emphasizing a “holistic approach,” but she also discussed the possibility that some people see an emphasis on diversity as repackaged quotas.

Rutgers Law Professor Stacy Hawkins presented “Deconstructing the Liberal Critique of Workplace Diversity,” a talk exploring the ways that courts have responded in cases challenging the use of diversity as a criteria. Drexel Law Professor Kevin Woodson discussed what he found while conducting a study in which he interviewed 75 young black attorneys, noting that issues of homophily can serve as a barrier in the work place.

“People gravitate to those who they see as similar to themselves in socially salient ways,” Woodson said.

Following the individual presentations, Associate Professor Andre Smith, who served as the moderator for the panel, invited further comments from each of the panelists as well as questions from the audience. The brief discussion touched on how the tolerance for economic inequality might relate to a tolerance for racial inequality, the ways in which diversity of thought can enhance problem solving, and the danger that if young associates try too hard to assimilate, the very diversity of thought that is being sought could be cut out.