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Commentary: Utah law students call for more diversity in the legal profession

Justice Served | Pat Bagley

Diversity in the legal field lags behind other professions in Utah and across the country. In Utah’s legal workplaces and law schools, people of color, women, LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities are underrepresented.

As law students and future lawyers, we believe the legal profession will not live up to its essential ideals — preserving fairness, equality and justice — unless and until the profession’s demographics reflect our communities.

The Utah Center for Legal Inclusion (UCLI), in partnership with Justice Lab at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, just released a report on diversity in Utah’s legal community, “Looking in and Leading Out.” We are the authors of that report. To create it, we spent a semester analyzing data, studying the causes and consequences of the field of law’s lack of diversity and learning about best practices to increase diversity.

We’ve learned it’s easy to be complacent about where our profession is headed. As individuals, we’re focused on getting through the day. This is especially true in the midst of a pandemic that has worsened inequalities in many ways. But if we don’t examine our diversity baseline and trajectory, we won’t see real change in our lifetimes.

We’ve learned that people must use their privilege and power to advocate for better recruitment, hiring and retention practices. For example, rather than hoping for diverse lawyers to apply, legal employers can take affirmative steps to recruit diverse applicants. We plan to advocate for such practices in our workplaces.

We also believe that the values Utahns hold dear require a greater commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in all of our workplaces.

Utah values courage and a pioneering spirit. It takes courage to recognize the role privilege currently plays in professional success and advancement. It takes a pioneering spirit to see a problem and set about to solve it.

Utah values families. Our report highlights how the legal profession can and must do more to adopt family-friendly policies. It’s time to reassess whether existing family leave policies are actually supporting families in this state.

Utah values personal responsibility. Everyone working in law has a role to play in creating a more inclusive legal profession.

Utah values hard work. Creating a legal profession that lives up to the ideals of fairness, equality, and justice will take work. Many members of the profession are committed to that effort. Many more need to step up.

We hope our report empowers all who work in the law to expect more from our colleagues, employers, and educators. Simply saying you’re an equal opportunity employer or that you’re dedicated to diversity is not enough. If our report demonstrates anything, it shows Utah legal employers are capable of delivering if they put in the work.

Most of us came to law school for a chance to create a better future through the law. As members of the legal community, we recognize the good work some current leaders are doing and agree it’s time to make diversity, equity, and inclusion top priorities in our profession.

Our generation is already 50% of the workforce and will likely increase to 75% by 2030. We can’t speak for everyone in our generation, but many of us are serious about selecting workplaces that demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We want to work hard for employers who show they are serious about these values, too.

We believe UCLI’s work and the report we’ve produced highlight how incorporating Utah values can help build a legal profession that cultivates positive experiences and equitable outcomes for ourselves, our communities, our colleagues, and the clients we serve.

Sarah Martinez

Jacqueline Rosen

Ryan Williams

Sarah Martinez, Jacqueline Rosen and Ryan Williams are law students from Justice Lab at the University of Utah’s SJ Quinney College of Law.

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