Does Affirmative Action Help or Hinder Minority Lawyers?
CHICAGO, May 24, 2007 — A debate on whether law firms practice affirmative action that helps or hinders minority lawyers leads the program of the ABA National Conference for the Minority Lawyer June 28 – 29 in Boston.
Richard H. Sander, law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of controversial studies of law school affirmative action and attrition of minorities practicing law in firms, will debate David B. Wilkins, law professor and director of the Program on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School. Their discussion will open the annual conference to be held this year at The Seaport Hotel.
Sander suggests that black lawyers fail to make partner at major law firms because of a credentials gap between black and white law school graduates flowing from race-conscious admissions policies which he says place minority students in law schools for which they are inadequately prepared. Law firms recruiting from elite law schools hire minority lawyers with lower grades than their white peers, but provide less mentoring and fewer quality assignments to these recruits, and the minority lawyers also may perform at a lower level, he says. He posits that ending race-conscious admissions policies would increase the number of new black lawyers because students would attend schools where they would perform better academically, earn higher grades and pass the bar examination at higher rates.
Wilkins has written that Sander’s research is based on data regarding a relatively small number of black lawyers who have been at law firms a relatively short time, and ignores differences in developmental opportunities made available to young black and white lawyers once they are in law firm practice.
Also at the conference, keynote speaker Vilma S. Martinez, a law firm partner in Los Angeles and former president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, will address the role of lawyers of color in shaping corporations in today’s business climate, at a June 28 luncheon.
Other activities at the conference will provide developmental opportunities for attendees. Sponsored by the ABA Section of Business Law and Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, the annual event combines practical training sessions with substantive continuing legal education designed specifically for minority business lawyers, litigators and government lawyers. It addresses marketing and promoting diversity as well as securities law, negotiations and settlements, employment law, immigration, mediation strategy and developments in electronic discovery. Other sessions will look at disparate impacts of government housing policies on minority home ownership, consumer protection and privacy law issues, nuts and bolts challenges for establishing solo practices and leadership skills.
With more than 413,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law in a democratic society.