Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, the legal profession is in danger of losing touch with the society it serves. Largely white and largely wealthy, it is serving an ever-narrower slice of the American population. While the profession is more than 92% white, U.S. Census data show an America that is 30% people of color. Law school enrollment is 80% white; yet Census projections anticipate an overall U.S. population of 50% people of color by 2050. The media tell of record law firm profits and associate salarieswhile Census statistics tell us that 40 million Americans live at or below the poverty line; and a 1993 American Bar Association study estimates that half of all low-income households have at least one serious legal problem each year, with three-quarters of that group having no access to a lawyer.
These simple numbers present a complex reality for legal practitioners: The lack of diversity and high socio-economic status of the legal profession are at odds with the American population and its needs, diminishing the legal profession's capacity to honor its traditional role of serving our society. If the legal profession does not institutionalize greater opportunities for lawyers of color, the ability to attract diverse lawyers, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, grand jurors, legislators, and civic leaders will be compromised. Moreover, if the profession does not seek to better serve the underserved, especially communities of color, lawyers' role as the connecting link between society and the rule of law will be abrogated.
This is a matter of escalating importance. According to a 1999 American Bar Association study, Perceptions of the U.S. Justice System, there is a widespread perception in America that not everyone is treated fairly by our system of justice. Half of those polled thought that people in law enforcement treat minorities differently than whites. Almost as many thought that courts do not treat racial and ethnic minorities the same as whites. And people of color significantly outnumbered whites in expressing these perceptions of bias.
Similar findings are reflected in the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium's recently-released white paper, The Search for Equal Access To Justice: Asian American Access To Justice Project Report (May 2000). The Report states that, "Asian Americans are having trouble accessing basic legal services, and have the most problems accessing assistance with immigration, labor, and employment discrimination matters. ...Whether it is a civil, criminal or administrative proceeding, immigrants who are limited English proficient are likely to be at an enormous disadvantage. Few, if any, courts provide adequate access and assistance. All too often there are reports of family members and other untrained bilingual speakers being pressed into service who may not even be aware of their ethical obligations or understand the legal terms being used in the courtroom. In some cases, because of the limited availability of interpreters and the absence of a uniform system for training and assigning interpreters, judges end up asking husbands to act as interpreters for their battered spouses, or untrained courthouse staff to act as interpreters."
As for American Indians, as Lawrence Baca, President of the Native American Bar Association says, "Of the hundreds of opinions written every year involving issues of Federal Indian Lawissues of Treaty Rights, issues of land rights, issues involving the sovereign powers of Indian tribesnone has ever been written by someone who was an American Indian."
Provision of pro bono services is also wanting. Although there are thousands of pro bono practitioners, hundreds of pro bono programs, and countless individual pro bono practices in place, the aggregate provision of pro bono services does not begin to match the overall need for them. Numerous studies indicate that only about 20% of the legal needs of the poor are being met by current pro bono services. And the population requiring pro bono services is burgeoning: America's population growth is greatest in its neediest communitiescommunities of color, of immigrants, of the poorly educated and marginally employed, those with substandard housing and impoverished schools.
The inequity in provision versus need is especially troublesome in that the people in need of legal assistance are usually the most vulnerable in our society. As described by Cynthia Adcock of the Association of American Law Schools in Pro Bono: The Heart of the Matter, "... people in need of legal assistance are from all races, ethnic groups, and ages. They include the working poor, veterans, family farmers, people with disabilities, victims of natural disasters, and the elderly. Two-thirds of legal services clients are women, most of them mothers with children. Many are formerly middle class and became poor because of age, unemployment, illness, or the breakup of a family."
The particular vulnerablilty of those in need of legal services is also illustrated in Bearing Witness: Legal Services Clients Tell Their Stories, a recently published report by the Brennan Center for Justice. One client describes immigrating to the United States to enter a marriage, then facing a daily choice between physical abuse or the risk of deportation. Another tells how the public school system wrongly forced her child into classes containing only the most disturbed students. A third describes financial hardship when an illness ended her husband's career and forced the family into poverty, while the State denied them the Medicaid coverage that offered the best hope of treatment and recovery. A fourth tells how the federal government separated her family from its ancestral Alaskan land. And a fifth describes fighting to secure medical supplies vital to her diabetic daughter's survival.
Diversity in the Profession
Pro Bono Services
Lawyers For One
Lawyers For One America (LFOA) was formed in the Fall of 1999 in response to the President's Call To Action. A non-profit organization, LFOA assists lawyers and their organizations from every segment of the profession to take on this mission, and to ensure that no one is barred from participating in or accessing the legal profession and its services.
Participants in the LFOA collaboration include: The Coalition of the Bars of Color; the American Bar Association; the American Corporate Counsel Association; the Association of American Law Schools; the Conference of Chief Justices; the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; the National Association of Public Interest Law; bar associations; corporate law departments; law firms; law schools; and legal services/public interest organizations. The collaboration provides officials in the White House and the Justice Department with periodic reports on the progress of the LFOA initiative.
Lawyers For One America represents a watershed event for the legal profession. It is a collaborative effort that is unique in bringing together many disparate constituencies within the profession that have been working on diversity and pro bono issues from their various perspectives. It provides a consensus-oriented environment that is informed by previous work. Recognizing that one size does not necessarily fit all, collaborators offer individualized strategies and programs to address the unique issues of the different ethnic, racial and professional groups they represent.
In one year of existence, to achieve its mission for diversity and equal access to justice, Lawyers For One America has:
As a baseline of diversity and pro bono efforts, the Report describes the foundation in place for achieving the goals of Lawyers For One America, as reflected by the numbers and anecdotal evidence of progress. It is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather an illustration of the work of the lawyers and organizations that are part of the LFOA collaboration. Participation in LFOA is totally voluntary, and self-reported. Consequently, many public and private legal organizations are not represented. LFOA applauds and supports the efforts of all legal practitioners and providers to diversify the profession and increase pro bono services.
The Report is not intended to stand alone. The organizations that have participated in the LFOA collaboration will continue to promote their own individual programs. And, where appropriate, they will form joint ventures with others in the profession, forming new programs often modeled in whole or in part on best practices and model programs identified by LFOA.
The Report speaks to the status of the profession, in the voices of the collaboration.
It provides Recommendations to the legal profession to increase diversity within
its ranks and open access to legal services, especially to communities of color.
It includes Declarations of Action from all segments of the profession, detailing
the practices and programs of a constellation of practitioners. It provides a
set of model practices and programs. And it offers a comprehensive resource of
LFOA collaborators and how to contact them.
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