The Impact of One Florida Initiative on Florida's Public Law Schools: A Critical Race Theory Analysis

By Hilton, Adriel A.; Gasman, Marybeth et al. | Educational Foundations, Summer-Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

The Impact of One Florida Initiative on Florida's Public Law Schools: A Critical Race Theory Analysis


Hilton, Adriel A., Gasman, Marybeth, Wood, J. Luke, Educational Foundations


For years, the legal profession in the United States has offered various initiatives intended to increase minority representation (e.g., internships, mentoring programs, etc.). However, these initiatives have had minimal success in diversifying the ranks of the legal community (Glater, 2001). Sadly, the dearth of minorities, especially Blacks, in the legal profession as a whole, is compounded as the nation's law schools continue to be woefully lacking in the enrollment of racial and ethnic minorities ("Among the," 2007).

While underrepresentation is pervasive throughout the legal profession, even greater levels of nonminority overrepresentation occur in elite law firms (Barker, 2005; Glater, 2001). Data from large U.S. law firms indicates a similar trend. Between 2008 and 2009, the 200 largest law firms in the country terminated 6 percent of their attorneys. Minority lawyers were disproportionately affected by terminations, with 8% of minority lawyers losing their jobs. However, not all minority group representation was affected at the same rate. African American lawyers and partners were disproportionately impacted during this time, as 13% of Black lawyers were lost. In other words, one in every six Black nonpartners was let go. Further, the number of Black partners also declined, decreasing by 16% (Barker, 2010).

In Florida's legal profession, the landscape is similar to the nation as a whole. There is a lack of production in minority law graduates, which has largely been attributed to their lack of access to, and representation in, publicly supported law schools (Herbert, 1999). For example, in 2004 the Florida Bar Association (FBA) reported 74,125 members, of whom only 43,007 reported their race. Of the 43,007 reported number, minorities made up less than 10%. By comparison, minorities represented more than 20% of Florida's population during this period (U.S. Census, 2002). This suggests a lack of proportional representation, whereby the percentage of minorities in the state was not reflected in the profession (Wood, 2008). The lack of representation of Blacks in the legal profession mirrors that of enrollment disparities in Florida law schools, where Blacks (308 students) lagged behind Whites (1,808 students) and Hispanics (405 students) during 2006.

Nationally, the American Bar Association (ABA) has found that the percentage of minorities enrolled in law schools has decreased in recent years (Mallory, 2005). Decreasing minority representation in law schools was identified at the beginning of the millennium, when Chambliss (2004) found that the percentage of minority law school students had diminished "from 20.6% in 2001-2002 to 20.3% in 2003-2004" (p. 2). Chambliss described the reduction of minority enrollment in the profession as "extremely troubling" (p. 2). However, what Chambliss identified was not part of temporary ebb in law school representation, but rather, a more pronounced long-term trend. In an analysis of 15 years of law school data from 1992 to 2008, the Society of American Law Teachers (2009) reported that the percentage enrollment of Black and Hispanic law students decreased by 8.6%.

The Miles to Go study conducted by the ABA's Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity found that African-American representation in law is less than in any other profession. For instance, Mallory (2005) noted "African Americans made up only 3.9% of all lawyers, compared to 4.4 % of all physicians, 5.6% of college and university professors, 7.8% of computer scientists, and 7.0% of accountants and auditors" (p. 5). From data provided by the ABA, Blacks make up only 4% of the nation's lawyers, even though Blacks represent 13% of the population of the United States. This lack of proportional representation has far-reaching effects in terms of distrust of the legal system by racial minorities. The underrepresentation of Black lawyers suggests that Black plaintiffs and defendants will be less likely to participate in court cases with lawyers and judges who share the same racial/ethnic affiliation (Mallory, 2005; Randall, 2004). …

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