Access to Justice Series: Diversification of the Legal Profession Will Provide Our Community with Greater Access to JusticeStaff
By Gina Occhipinti-Borasi, Board Member, Santa Cruz County Bar Association
Customarily, attorneys engage in the following methods to allow underrepresented and low-income persons access justice: pro bono work, reduction of legal fees, and participation in the county’s lawyer referral service.
An additional and imperative way to provide further access to justice in our community is the diversification of the legal profession. How does diversity and inclusion help our community access justice? Diverse experiences and backgrounds take legal representation to a greater level. Attorneys of varied backgrounds bring more empathy, understanding, and creativity to a case. Furthermore, an attorney with a diverse upbringing may have a greater ability to relate to their clients, have more efficient communication as they speak their clients’ common language, and have increased trust and confidence from their clients.
Ways to increase diversification in a law firm is to hire, promote, train, and support those of varied races, religions, socioeconomic statuses, genders, sexual orientations, and disabilities. If you are a solo practitioner, you can encourage diversity by mentoring a first-generation student, collaborating with an attorney who has different qualities or characteristics than you, encouraging a fellow attorney to take a leadership role, or supporting a non-profit or organization in town that assists marginalized groups.
In August of 2022, The State Bar of California released its 2022 Report Card on the diversity of California’s legal profession. Key findings in the report were white people account for 39% of the state’s population yet comprise 66% of California’s active attorney population; Latinos comprise 36% of the state’s population but only 6% of all California’s licensed attorneys; and women of color are underrepresented in leadership positions in all employment settings. Click HERE to view the State Bar of California’s “Calls to Action” to provide ways employers and members of the Bar can further diversity, equity and inclusion.
The more effort and work we do to attract and support a diverse group of attorneys in Santa Cruz, the more our community will benefit and access justice.