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August 4, 2009

Successful Diversity Programs Support, Encourage Students, But More Work Needed

Presenter Errol Stone of Chicago discusses the Legacy Charter School during the ABA Annual Meeting program, Plumbing the Diversity Pipeline.

Presenter Errol Stone of Chicago discusses the Legacy Charter School during the ABA Annual Meeting program, Plumbing the Diversity Pipeline.

For the legal profession to reflect the diversity of society, 1,500 African-American and 7,500 Hispanic-American children need to enter the legal preparatory pipeline each year until 2028.

What’s so special about the year 2028? That’s when affirmative action will no longer be needed.

Until then, the need for diversity programs continues, according to the program, “Plumbing the Diversity Pipeline,” sponsored by the ABA Presidential Advisory Council on Diversity in the Profession, which hosted the comprehensive discussion during the 2009 Annual Meeting.

One such program is the Posse Foundation, according to Jamal Edwards, of the firm Kirkland & Ellis of Chicago, a volunteer with this initiative that operates in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C.  The Posse Foundation encourages students to pursue higher education, joining students together in a “posse” so that they provide social support for each other while they are in school. Edwards noted that the program has supported nearly 3,000 students with their post-secondary educations.

Other initiatives include McDonald’s Street Law program, which also targets young students, providing them with an in-depth look at the law, democracy and human rights. Sarah DiLorenzo of McDonald’s described the program during the discussion.

While these initiatives encourage minority high school and college students to pursue careers in law, by then it might be too late. According to information presented during the program, by kindergarten, 71 percent of white children know the alphabet, compared with just 57 percent and 50 percent of black and Hispanic children, respectively. And the problem continues—by eighth grade, many black and Hispanic students are reading at the same level of white fourth grade students. Panelists attributed these problems to fewer qualified teachers and counselors, lower expectations and limited access to resources.

Other program presenters included Sarah Redfield of York, Maine, and Errol Stone of Chicago. More information on the ABA Presidential Advisory Council on Diversity is available at the Profession’s Pipeline Directory.