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Law Practice,
State Bar & Bar Associations

Nov. 16, 2018

Public protection demands a diverse and inclusive legal system

The State Bar of California is embarking on a comprehensive review of the discipline system for bias, including racial, ethnic and practice-size partiality.


The State Bar of California's public protection mission encompasses greater access to, and inclusion in, the legal system. A legal system that reflects the diversity of our great state is integral to fundamental fairness in our vibrant democracy. The lack of inclusiveness, and the divide this creates, undermines our democracy and deprives the most vulnerable among us of basic rights and access to justice.

The State Bar's Role in Ensuring Diversity

State Bar admissions data reflect that although we have made some progress in the last 30 years, women and people of color are still widely underrepresented in the legal profession in California. These disparities also exist for those in the LGBTQ community.

In some communities, these disparities are especially stark. For example, while the U.S. Census reports approximately 40 percent of Californians identify as Latino, they make up less than 5 percent of California lawyers. Women make up fully half of our state's population and in recent years have begun entering law school at higher rates than men, yet we have not achieved gender balance amongst licensed attorneys.

The State Bar has a critical role to play in ensuring that all Californians have access to qualified and ethical attorneys who can best serve their needs. For many people this means an attorney from their community, whose shared background fosters an understanding of unique circumstances, a better working relationship, and greater confidence in the justice system. Expanding these opportunities has benefits not only for individuals, but also for the legal profession and system as a whole.

In August, the State Bar held its first-ever Summit on Diversity in the Legal Profession, convening more than 20 regional and statewide affinity bar associations to identify and discuss partnerships to meaningfully increase representation in our legal system across race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation lines. The California Legislature concurrently codified both access and inclusion as part of the State Bar's public protection mission in our annual licensing fee bill, reinforcing the State Bar's long history of work in this area. In March 2019, the State Bar will submit a foundational report that will articulate, among other things, our diversity goals, concrete steps to achieve these goals, and how we will hold ourselves accountable for these goals.

Leadership Requires that We Examine Ourselves

Setting the pace for our legal system requires that we institutionalize our commitment to diversity in a way that is "Built In, Not Bolted On" throughout our agency. If we are to be leaders in our state's efforts, we must hold ourselves accountable for the same. For example, a nearly 20-year-old report submitted to the California Legislature reflected a higher complaint proportion against solo practitioners. The report, however, did not review other forms of bias that may exist in our discipline system. Consequently, we are embarking on a comprehensive review of our discipline system for bias, including racial, ethnic and practice-size partiality. Our credibility and commitment to continued reform demand that we ask and respond to these critical questions.

We have also provided the foundation for our State Bar decision-makers -- State Bar staff and volunteers, including those serving on our Board of Trustees, committees, and commissions -- to make impartial decisions by requiring implicit bias education and training. Our understanding of where, how, and why disparate outcomes manifest at the State Bar will determine what interventions we need to employ to address them.

The State Bar has a long history and commitment to public protection. Before any licensee is permitted to practice law, that licensee takes a solemn oath to defend the constitutions of our great state and nation. The principles that are reflected in those seminal documents, among them, equal protection, fundamental fairness, and due process, are thus engrained in the legal profession. The State Bar's commitment to diversity and inclusion in our legal system reflects the very core of these principles.


Ben Armistead

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