Enhancing Diversity in the Legal Profession – A New Program with UW School of Law

Today is a very exciting day for those committed to promoting and enhancing diversity within the legal profession.

The University of Washington School of Law announced the Gregoire Fellows program aimed at helping to attract diverse college graduates to attend law school, and in particular the University of Washington. We hope to learn from this pilot program, and to increase the diversity of the lawyers in Puget Sound region. Microsoft is a proud participant and sponsor. The full list of participants demonstrates just how important improving diversity in the legal profession is to our region and state. The legal departments include Amazon, Microsoft, Nintendo, Seattle Genetics, Starbucks, Vulcan Inc. and Weyerhaeuser. The program is also supported by law firms Davis Wright Tremaine, Foster Pepper, K&L Gates, Lane Powell, Orrick, Perkins Coie and Stoel Rives.

I strongly believe that the legal profession must be as diverse as the people we serve, if we are to truly serve the people, businesses and government within our nation. Unfortunately, the statistics show we have a ways to go to meet that goal.

In late 2013, Microsoft commissioned a study exploring the diversity gap among the legal profession and other similar professions. We already knew that African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos represent less than 10 percent of lawyers in the United States, compared to more than 30 percent of our population. What we did not know was that these college graduates of color attend law school at lower rates than they attend post graduate programs in business and medicine. And we did not know that more than 20 percent of African Americans and more than 10 percent of Hispanic/Latino law students who graduate from law school never passed the bar, compared to less than 5 percent of white law students.

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This means that “pipeline” issues do not stop at admissions to law school. While having a pipeline of diverse law students means that the entire legal profession must work to recruit diverse students, we must also work on retention by providing students with the right tools and resources to successfully enter the legal profession. These two actions are critical steps towards improving diversity in the legal profession. The Gregoire Fellows program was formed in response to these challenges. It provides a commitment to a paid summer internship at the conclusion of the first year of law school, a mentoring program while in law school and financial support to enable graduating fellows to study to take the exam required in order to practice law.

Mahatma Gandhi is often paraphrased as saying “we must be the change we want to see in the world.” The Gregoire Fellows program reflects one key change we’d like to see in the world and works to address it here at home … a more dynamic, creative, capable, inclusive group of legal professionals.

Today’s announcement is a great first step on this journey. I thank these companies, and the University of Washington School of Law, for their leadership in taking a first step toward helping address this critical issue.

You can read more about today’s announcement in the press release, or in The Seattle Times.