ABA's first-ever 'Equity Summit' has a SCOTUS headliner

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  • Four-day virtual event will focus on diversity and inclusion
  • Sonia Sotomayor will speak on Wednesday

(Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor will weigh in on an enduring challenge for the legal industry during the American Bar Association’s first-ever Equity Summit—a four-day series of panels and discussions centered on diversity and inclusion in the profession.

The virtual conference runs Sept. 27-30, with Sotomayor participating in a conversation Wednesday with Jamie “Jim” Taronji, an attorney adviser in the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Policy Planning. ABA President Reginald Turner will give opening remarks. Sotomayor is the first Hispanic person to serve on the nation’s high court.

The goal of the summit is to convene lawyers from all practice settings, judges, law students, legal employers and diversity professionals to better understand what diversity challenges the legal profession faces, and to share best practices and tools to address them. Sessions will examine implicit bias, recruiting and retaining diverse attorneys, and fostering an inclusive workplace. They will also address how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected diversity and inclusion efforts. The sessions are a mix of TED-style talks, workshops, and virtual networking.

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Recent data compiled by the ABA show that while the legal profession has made slow but steady progress on diversity, it remains far less diverse than the U.S. population. Lawyers of color made up 11.2% of all attorneys in 2011, and now comprise 14.6%. Minorities comprise 40% of the U.S. population, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Attorney diversity gains have been uneven across minority groups. The percentage of Black attorneys decreased slightly from 4.8% in 2011 to 4.7% in 2021—far lower than the more than 13% of Americans who are Black. The percentage of Native Americans also declined, from 1% in 2011 to less than half a percent this year. By contrast, the percentage of both Asian and Hispanic attorneys increased. Hispanics now account for nearly 5% of attorneys, up from 3.9% in 2011, while the percentage of Asian lawyers grew from 1.7% to 2.5% during the last 10 years.

In addition to Sotomayor, summit speakers include New York Public Library general counsel Michele Coleman Mays; 3M chief legal and policy officer Ivan Fong; Hogan Lovells chief executive officer Miguel Zaldivar; and Oregon Supreme Court Justice Adrienne Nelson.

Registration for the summit closes on Sept. 24.

Read more:

New lawyer demographics show modest growth in minority attorneys

'Exclusionary and classist': Why the legal profession is getting whiter

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com