Institute on Enhancing Diversity in the Pittsburgh Legal Community
National and local experts gathered at the University of Pittsburgh to explore the challenges of enhancing diversity in the legal profession at a one-day institute in June. “Attracting, Retaining, and Advancing Law Students and Lawyers of Color in the Pittsburgh Region” was co-sponsored by Pitt Law and the University’s Center on Race and Social Problems (CRSP), featuring speakers from law schools, law firms and associations from across the country. The program’s goals were to promote an understanding of the barriers to enhancing diversity, to support the exchange of ideas on best practices in the area, and to plant the seeds for collaborative efforts to improve diversity in the legal profession in the region.
According to the National Association of Law Placement, minorities account for approximately 5 percent of partners and 17 percent of associates at law firms nationwide. And in the Pittsburgh region, the numbers are even lower, with minorities representing less than 1.5 percent of partners and less than 9 percent of associates.
Law schools must do a better job of reaching out to minorities and recruiting them, said Peter Alexander, dean at the Southern Illinois University School of Law. He contends that this outreach should begin long before the undergraduate level and should aim for students in the middle school and high school levels, including those in neighborhood youth groups.
Panelists urged law schools to recruit and retain more minorities on their faculties to serve as mentors.
Featured speakers included Eugene E. Harris, Diversity Coordinator for the Allegheny County Bar Association; Arin Reeves, President of The Athens Group in Chicago; Helise Harrington, Partner and Director of Diversity at Sonnenschein, Nath and Rosenthal in New York City; and Cathy Bisson, Director at Cohen and Grigsby in Pittsburgh.