In an unfortunate, if typical, disconnect, Staci Zaretsky notes that while law school graduates are finally getting jobs at the rate they did before the 2007 recession, black law school graduates are left out of the good news.
[T]he number of graduates employed in full-time, long-term jobs where bar passage was required was 74.3 percent (an increase of more than 3 percentage points), a percentage higher than rates measured before the recession. It’s actually the highest level ever recorded.
This is great, and frankly surprising in light of the pandemic, news. But this great news doesn’t extend to everyone.
But for minority law school graduates, this data paints a much more dismal picture. Despite the fact that law firms have focused on diversity and inclusion in recent years, for the class of 2019, Black and Native American law school graduates had the lowest overall employment rates. In fact, Black graduates were employed in bar passage-required jobs at a rate 17 percentage points lower than their white classmates.
And with the same depth as ATL, NALP Executive Director James Leipold notes the problem.
In a year when the overall class secured jobs and salaries at higher rates than we have seen since before the Great Recession, many subsets of graduates, but especially Black law school graduates, still meet with lower levels of success in the job market than the rest of the graduate pool.
Why? There is likely no time in history when diversity is driving the job hunt more than now, with both law firms and governmental units desperately seeking to be more inclusive in their hiring. Whether that’s because they really want to be diverse or they feel compelled to create the appearance of diversity so their stats look good is a separate question: the fact is that black lawyers are needed, desperately, to avoid criticism and the loss of business that follows a lack of diversity.
This should mean that black law school grads are a hot commodity. They should be in greater demand than white grads. They should be courted for jobs, offered better pay and be in a position to enjoy a buyer’s market. So why is just the opposite happening?
How do we solve the diversity and inclusion issues that remain in private practice? When white law school graduates are finding jobs that require bar passage at a rate of 79.8 percent and their Black colleagues trail behind at 62.4 percent, it’s clear that whatever law firms think they’re doing to improve diversity and inclusion is still not enough.
Before one can answer the obvious quesetion of “how do we solve” the problem, one has to know what the problem is. The facile answer is discrimination, that it must be that law firms are racist because what else can it be? Except that doesn’t remotely square with the efforts being made to recruit and court black lawyers in order to increase the diversity and improve their statistics. Their corporate clients demand it. Their own staff want it. There is no shortage of voices within law firms calling for a more racially diverse and inclusive firm.
Is it possible that discrimination in law firms is so deeply embedded that despite efforts to be more inclusive, the old white men running the joint just can’t manage to find black law school graduates to welcome into the firm? Sure, it’s possible.
But there are also a number of other, less woke, possibilities, not the least of which is the efforts by law school to facilitate minority matriculation such that they’re graduating students who don’t have the ability. And firms, despite their extreme desire to diversify, still won’t hire law grads who aren’t capable of adequately representing their clients.
Which is it? Is it something else? Is it a combination of things? Beats me, but if the point is to figure out how to fix this disparity, then the first step is to ascertain, with cold hard facts, why it’s happening. Assuming the politically correct answer helps no one, no matter how facile and socially just it may be.