The lack of minorities like people of color, women, and people with disabilities working within the legal industry has long been a topic of discussion but there has been very little progress when it comes to inclusion. In the episode of Legal Toolkit, host Jared Correia talks to Jeena Cho about why there’s a lack of diversity in the legal industry, what both individual lawyers and firms are doing about it, and why it’s important for legal professionals to care. They also discuss unconscious bias including what it is and how to address it.
Jeena Cho is the author of two books: “The Anxious Lawyer, An 8-Week Guide to a Joyful and Satisfying Law Practice Through Mindfulness and Meditation,” and “How to Manage Your Law Office.”
Special thanks to our sponsors Scorpion, Answer1, and Thomson Reuters Firm Central.
The Legal Toolkit
Diversity (or Lack Thereof) in the Legal Profession
Intro: Welcome to Legal Toolkit, bringing you the latest legal trends and business initiatives to help you manage your law firm, with your host Jared Correia. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Jared Correia: Hello everybody and welcome to a new episode of The Legal Toolkit, as always here on Legal Talk Network. If you were looking for the new season of Transformers: Robots in Disguise on Cartoon Network, I have some bad news, it’s been canceled. Yes, I watch a lot of cartoons.
If you are a returning listener, welcome back. If you are a first-time listener, hopefully you will become a longtime listener. And if you are Kyrie Irving, I am very delighted to have you in Boston.
As always, I am your host Jared Correia, and in addition to casting this pod, I am the Founder and CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which offers subscription-based law practice management, consulting and technology services for law firms. Check us out at HYPERLINK “http://www.redcavelegal.com” redcavelegal.com. I came up with that all by myself.
You can buy my book ‘Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers’ from the American Bar Association on iTunes and Amazon, and probably also at Green Apple Books in San Francisco, California.
Here on The Legal Toolkit we provide you each month with a new tool to add to your own legal toolkit so that your practices will become more and more like best practices. In this episode, we are going to talk about Diversity (or Lack Thereof) in the Legal Profession.
But before I introduce today’s guests, let’s take a moment to thank our sponsors.
First, I would like to thank our brand-new sponsor of The Legal Toolkit Podcast and that is Thomson Reuters’ Firm Central. Firm Central is a cloud-based legal practice management software this streamlines your day and automates non-billable administrative tasks so that you can accomplish more with less. Check them out.
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Okay. Today’s guest is Jeena Cho of JC Law Group PC, where she practices with her husband. I don’t know how they do that. If I practiced with my wife, we would probably be open for a day before we killed each other.
Jeena is a lawyer, an author, a mindfulness instructor and a wellness consultant. Jeena has written two books, ‘The Anxious Lawyer, An 8-Week Guide to a Joyful and Satisfying Law Practice Through Mindfulness and Meditation’ and ‘How to Manage Your Law Office’. She also writes for Forbes and Above the Law.
Jeena speaks across the country about lawyer well-being, law practice, mindfulness and diversity. She received her BA and JD both from the University of Buffalo, and today she is here to talk to us about diversity.
So Jeena, welcome to the show.
Jeena Cho: Thanks so much for having me.
Jared Correia: Excellent. This is great. So, I am a JC too, does that mean I can be an honorary member of your law group and would you pick up my malpractice insurance?
Jeena Cho: Of course.
Jared Correia: Oh beautiful.
Jeena Cho: I will run it by my husband.
Jared Correia: Yes, let me know. I am interested.
Jeena Cho: Sounds good.
Jared Correia: All right, let’s roll here. Let’s get right into the questions because I think this is a very interesting topic, so let me be as blunt as possible here. The legal profession, as you know, is not generally known for its diversity and this is coming from a middle-aged white guy speaking into this microphone.
So, can I ask you, in your opinion, why is it that the legal profession is not more diverse at this point, especially when you see other industries making advances in terms of diversity?
Jeena Cho: Yeah. I don’t know that there are actually that many industries that are making headways in diversity. I mean I think legal is probably lagging behind, but when you look at the diversity in terms of the management teams on Fortune 500 companies or even our Congress, it tends to be still pretty white male.
And in terms of why I think there’s not as much diversity in our profession and I think there’s a couple of things happening. One is that humans are just naturally tribal, like we kind of grow up with people that are like us. So, if you are a white, you tend to sort of live in white neighborhoods, you go to kindergarten and first grade with other white folks, and then you kind of work through your schooling.
And when you get to law school, kind of the same thing, you kind of hang out with people that look like you and have similar backgrounds, and I think that there’s just sort of that perpetual, wanting to just kind of hang out with people that are like you.
And the social science research is actually fairly strong on this that if you are not exposed to a lot of diversity from when you are a kid, it’s actually much more difficult as an adult to kind of break that implicit bias that you may have against people that are different from you.
And also, there’s just a historical behavior in our profession. Like if you look at the Supreme Court, for example, we didn’t have a woman justice until 1981, which is fairly recent. So, I think there’s just that sort of inertia of institutional bias that’s been happening for of course hundreds of hundreds of years, pretty much since the founding of this country, and I think we are just still seeing the residual effects of that.
Jared Correia: That makes a lot of sense. I think that’s a good explanation. You know like as an extremely handsome man, I am always hanging out with good-looking people and it does rub off on you after a while.
All right, so let’s talk about what firms and lawyers are trying to do. So, you hear a lot, even though there hasn’t been much traction about big firms trying to make pushes for diversity. Are they actually making any gains?
Jeena Cho: When we look at the data it doesn’t look like it. So, when we look at the study from the National Association of Women Lawyers and look at the women in law firms for the past ten years, equity partners in 2007 was about 16% women; this year it was 19%. So that’s not a whole lot of traction.
And when we look at the associates however, back in 2007, we still had about almost 50% women coming in as associates, so we had 47%, and when we look at the number from this year, we actually went backwards and we are actually at 46%, which is not very promising at all.
And of course, when we look at other dimensions of diversity, for example, people of color, only 6%, and this is talking about the Am 100, the big law firms, equity partners, women of color only make up 2%, the LGBTQ community again 2% and of course lawyers with disability make up less than 1%. So, we are just not doing that great in terms of all the different dimensions of diversity.
Jared Correia: I am glad you brought statistics, but now I am a little depressed, so not a lot of great gains being made by big firms. So, in that environment, like do you think, and I know there’s not a whole ton of data on this, but do you think small firms are making better progress than big firms, and if they are, how are they doing it, or if they are not, how can they possibly get to that point with so many small firm owners just drowning in business management issues that a lot of big firm lawyers don’t have to deal with?
Jeena Cho: Yeah. I don’t know, because I mean there isn’t a whole lot of data on that, but I think that certainly as individual lawyers, there are things that we can do to increase diversity and inclusion in our profession, if that’s something that’s important to you.
I certainly think there’s sort of general data about women and people of color opening businesses at a much, much higher rate in the United States in general and I would kind of think that that’s true in our profession as well just from kind of looking around and noticing that women lawyers are kind of saying, you know what, we don’t want the big law lifestyle and they are actually partnering up and forming small law firms; same thing for people of color, so yeah.
Jared Correia: So, do you think that’s a good or a bad thing that lawyers of color or women lawyers are opening up their own law firms to get out of the big firm culture? Do you think at some point that’s going to mean that those women-owned or minority-owned firms are going to become big firms that can compete with the more white-bread firms or is it bad that people just have to get outside of the system to make any headway?
Jeena Cho: I think it’s a huge loss for the big law firms, if you are losing essentially at least half of the workforce, women, and then of course when you look at the people of color. I mean the minorities, and I am using my air quotation marks here, will no longer be the minority in very short order.
I mean when we just look at the data, I mean in a very, very short time, in our lifetime there’s not going to be a single racial majority in the United States. So, if law firms actually want to survive and they want to attract the best talents and unless you think the best talents are only white men, I think they are going to have to change. So, I think it’s a matter of their sort of survival and they have to shift.
Jared Correia: Okay, so we will talk a little bit more about some practical effects of this coming up in the next section, but for now we are going to take a break. This is all the stuff you need to buy.
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Jared Correia: Hey, thanks for coming back. We were here the whole time. Jeena came back too. So, let’s now reset with Jeena Cho of JC Law Group and diverse other things that she does, who is here for us today to talk about diversity in the legal profession.
And in the first section we sadly, but probably not unexpectedly, learned that there is not much diversity in legal, especially in large firms. So, let’s talk about this like old white guy problem, because it’s not just an old white guy problem, it’s also a young white guy problem. There’s just not enough diversity in firms as it stands.
So, let’s talk about an issue that I have been seeing here and there. The people who are inheriting firms and taking on firm management roles look a whole lot like the people who are leaving those jobs. So, we touched on this a little bit. So, is this solely a question of more minorities, and I am throwing the air quotes on there again as well, launching their own practices or are there other ways to make strides within traditional law firm management structure that could be brought about by a new class of, for lack of a better word, white guys who are taking over these firms? Is there hope for the next generation of firm owners?
Jeena Cho: I think so. I mean what I am noticing is that especially with the younger lawyers, they went to school and they sort of grew up in a more diverse community, so they tend to be more open, but I think frankly what needs to happen is that everyone at the firm needs to be responsible for increasing diversity and inclusion.
Like what I see often is that the firms will say, well, we have this diversity and inclusion problem, let’s form a diversity and inclusion committee, which tends to be made up majority of people of color, women, and folks from the LGBT community, but they are actually not the people in power who can actually institute these changes, or they will hire a diversity manager.
And I think what needs to happen is we have to get the partners, the equity partners, the white male like yourself to the table and just ask the question, like why is diversity and inclusion important to you, why does it matter and why should it matter for the gray-haired white men.
And I think there can be some discomfort in actually standing up and saying, you know what, I am looking around the table and I don’t see any diversity, like everyone at the table looks like me, as a white male, because then you kind of run into that risk of having your friends look at you and say, well, why do you care, you have a seat at the table. So, I think it takes a certain amount of courage to say, well, diversity and inclusion is important to me despite the fact that I am a white male and it’s sort of exercising your privilege and actually spreading that power so you can be more inclusive.
Jared Correia: And just to be clear, I am not a white male equity partner at a large law firm, but if anyone wants to offer me that position, I am open to take calls.
So Jeena, do you think part of the problem too is that when people refer to this issue, they like call it a problem, like the diversity problem, would it be better to start referring to these things as like diversity solutions instead?
Jeena Cho: Yeah, I think that’s a great reframe, or just thinking about it in terms of creating a more inclusive work environment, where we have people that are different and just all the dimensions that humans are different, feel like they can be themselves at the office and feel comfortable being their best selves.
Jared Correia: Yes, I am just eccentric, not a minority.
Jeena Cho: There you go.
Jared Correia: That’s my problem. So, let’s talk a little bit about where the solution starts potentially before we get to the law firms. So, is part of this about getting different people into law schools in the first place, people with different backgrounds, different ethnicities, and then if that’s the thing, getting more people into law school, adding diversity to law schools, how is that accomplished if law firms can’t do it?
Jeena Cho: Yeah, I think law schools are actually doing a fairly good job of increasing diversity in their incoming class.
Jared Correia: There is hope.
Jeena Cho: There is hope, yeah. And I mean, certainly women have been graduating, although the research shows that women have been graduating at 50% or higher in the lower tier law schools, but I mean certainly we have been having women going to law school at 50% rate or higher for the last few decades or at least the last, let’s say, a decade or two, which would then suggest those women should have sort of worked through the ranks and become partners or equity partners by now, but that’s not translating.
So, I don’t know that it’s so much a matter of getting — I mean I think certainly that would be helpful to get more minorities and LGBT community folks into our law schools, but also, I think law firms really need to sort of embrace as a whole this idea of diversity and inclusion being a part of the fabric of who they are. It needs to become part of their identity and not something that that committee over there is responsible for.
Jared Correia: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. I like that. Okay, there’s a term you brought up in the first section, which is kind of a loaded term, this idea of unconscious bias. And I think most people have heard that, but I don’t necessarily know that they know what it means. So, can you explain that a little bit more and then can you also talk about how attorneys themselves can become more aware of this in an effort to increase diversity and inclusion in law firms, in law schools?
Jeena Cho: Sure. So unconscious bias are biases that we all have and I think that’s really important to emphasize against different groups of people and also just people that are different from us, and these can be things that we learn or absorb as children, it could be things that we learn as adults.
I mean it could be like something really silly, like you prefer red, I don’t know — like you prefer yogurt over milk, I don’t know, for breakfast or whatever it might be. And I don’t mean to suggest that like we want to get rid of all the unconscious biases because sometimes you just need your unconscious bias, like you just need to kind of be able to go into your closet and pick out your favorite clothes and put it on without having your mind kind of go through a 46-step check to figure out what you are going to wear in the morning.
And in terms of what individuals can do, and I feel very, very strongly that we are not going to have diversity and inclusion at law firms or any other organizations until the individuals within that organization are actually willing to look at their own unconscious bias.
So, I have done a lot of research on this. I have also sort of done work in my own life to see what are the unconscious biases that I have. So, I think it’s important to start with the question of why. Why is diversity and inclusion important to me? And I think sometimes for like the white men, they are like, well, it’s not really important to me because I got in and I am going to just slam the door behind me.
I have had white male tell me, well, diversity and inclusion is important to me because I have daughters, or I don’t know. So, there may be different reasons for why diversity and inclusion is important to you. It might be that you are a lawyer and you think that having a more just and equitable society involves having a more diverse and inclusive workplace, so that could be your reason. But actually, having some clarity around why that’s important to you.
So, I would say like start by looking at your own network, like look at the people that you interact with, your friend circle and look and see, is it diverse, is it inclusive. If you are a white male and you tend to hang out with other white male, you might say, huh, isn’t that interesting. And maybe make some conscious effort to try to kind of expand your circle.
Even just looking at your social media, I read this really interesting article about social media and how there’s a much, much higher rate of white males that use social, like especially Twitter, than other population. So, I actually went through and looked at who I followed and I was kind of shocked that I was following like a much, much higher percentage of white males and other groups. So, I made a conscious effort to go and find people.
And Twitter is such a wonderful venue for this that you can find people. If you want to learn more about what it’s like to be a lawyer with disability, you can literally go and find that person on Twitter, who is a lawyer, who is very public about his or her disability.
And also, just look at like your bookshelf and see, what am I consuming. Again, this was a blind spot for me because I was finding that I was reading a lot more books written by white male than other groups of people, and it’s like huh. So, I want to just make it very clear, like it’s not like just because I talk about this stuff that I am somehow like aboveboard and that I don’t have any unconscious bias either.
The thing that I started doing is actually attending CLEs at either other minority bar or women bar or LGBTQI Bar Association. So, kind of exposing yourself to different groups of people. So, if you tend to go to your local bar association and that bar association tends to be very white, go to an Asian-American Bar Association CLE or the Black-American Bar Association CLE.
There’s also a really great test on Harvard, it’s called Harvard Unconscious Bias Test and I found that to be fascinating, because I certainly didn’t think that I had biases against certain groups of people, but when I took the test I actually found that I had a fairly strong bias, unconscious bias against Black people, and I was like, wow, that’s so weird. So yeah, but it’s also really informative just in terms of seeing your own unconscious bias.
And also, if you are a White male lawyer and like there are things that I think you can do to sort of help, or I don’t know, just kind of — just something very simple like who are you mentoring, are you mentoring other lawyers that look like you, that went to your law school, or are you mentoring someone that is different from you? Go to your local law school and talk to the minority bar association there, especially if you practice in an area that tends to be very white male.
So, I think there are lots of different things that we can do as individuals to fix the diversity and inclusion problem.
Jared Correia: That was a lot. That was a lot to unpack. Tell me you didn’t throw away your Thomas Hardy collected works though when you were approaching your bookshelf; keep some of those white guy writers.
All right, one thought you had at the end there was about CLE and we are going to come back and hit that on the other side. But now, while I look for new recipes for sturgeon, listen to some words from our sponsors.
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Jared Correia: Now, look at that, you came back again. Good for you. How was your frosting sandwich?
Jeena Cho: That was delicious.
Jared Correia: Yes, that’s a real thing by the way. Do you actually eat frosting sandwiches Jeena, just to digress for a moment, like two pieces of bread, cake frosting in between the two pieces of bread? That was my jam when I was a kid, of course I can’t eat it now because I would weigh 700 pounds, but it’s delightful, if you haven’t tried it.
In any event, let’s reengage now with Jeena Cho, who is humoring me right now, of JC Law Group, over questions of diversity in the legal profession.
So, I know, because I am on many of these myself, but why are there so many all-male, all-white panels at legal conferences, events and CLE programs?
Jeena Cho: I think we have to go back to that tribal mentality, like what do most conferences do. Like you have the conference organizers who, if you have all white male conference organizers, they are going to just say, okay, like who are the friends that we know and what are the topics we want to talk about, and then they go and invite their buddies and then that’s how you end up with an all-white male panel and conferences. So, I think that’s sort of the very simple explanation in terms of why that happens.
Jared Correia: All right, so let’s move on then. Do you think there are things that program organizers can do to promote diversity on panels, practical things that they can do, even all-white organizing committees, what should they be thinking about?
Jeena Cho: Yeah, I think the first thing to do is actually expand the planning committee. I mean, I think it’s a problem if you are trying to reach your entire legal community, but you don’t have representation at the planning committee stage, I think that’s a really great place to start.
Like if you are all white dudes sitting around planning a conference, you might say, hey, you know what, it might be good to have some women here or maybe some people of color, because they might actually have different ideas about different panels or topics that would be of interest to people that are not like us that are coming to the conference.
And I think, I mean just kind of pausing for a moment, so I go to a lot of legal conferences, I speak at a lot of them, and I think that, like if I walk into a conference room and there are 500 people sitting there and I look around and I am surrounded by people that are just white, I mean as an Asian woman like I just get that feeling of, oh, whether it’s intentional or unintentional, there is that feeling of, oh, I am not welcomed in this space. I am not invited.
And I think if you are white, like you have never — like that experience doesn’t happen all that often, so like it’s hard to even imagine what that would be like. But really diversity and inclusion is about creating spaces where everyone can feel included and part of feeling included is being able to look around the room and see people that look like you. I think that’s really kind of important for the organizers to keep in mind.
Jared Correia: Fair. Okay. So, do you think there’s an effective diversity ratio for program panels or is this more about like the spirit of the matter than actually trying for specific numbers?
Jeena Cho: I think it’s really just about creating a space where everyone can feel that sense of belonging, where they feel welcomed. I don’t think it’s about the numbers. And I think actually if you just try to focus too much on the numbers sometimes that can backfire. Like I have literally gotten emails that say, oh, we are putting on this panel and we realize we have all white men, can you talk on this topic of like constitutional law, and I am like I don’t know anything about constitutional law, like you shouldn’t invite me. That’s a terrible reason to invite me.
I think it’s really important not to just go by the numbers, but really think about what is your intention behind trying to create more diversity and inclusion within your conference and kind of move with that intention, and not just, like, okay, we need a certain number of these folks and these folks and these folks.
Jared Correia: Excellent. So, I thought this was a pretty good discussion. I am glad we got the word out there. Let’s hope there will be more diverse panels, more diverse organizations in the future, but sadly, we have talked for a while and that’s going to do it for another episode of The Legal Toolkit.
So, I will be back on future shows with further insights into my soul, the soul of America and the legal market. But if you are feeling nostalgic for my dulcet tones however, you can check out our entire show archive anytime you want at HYPERLINK “http://www.legaltalknetwork.com” legaltalknetwork.com.
Jeena, I was just happy that we didn’t even mention Donald Trump once until now during this podcast, I am very pleased about that.
So, let me say thank you to Jeena Cho of JC Law Group for guesting on the show today. Jeena, can you tell folks a bit more about you, your various projects and where to find more information about you, because we already know you don’t know anything about constitutional law, which is fine.
Jeena Cho: Sure. You can learn more about me, I am actually launching a daily 6-minute mindfulness program for lawyers starting in January called Mindful Pause, and you can learn more about that on HYPERLINK “http://www.jeenacho.com” jeenacho.com.
I am also very active on Twitter, #Jeena_Cho; don’t look at the JeenaCho, all one word, that’s owned by somebody else, that’s not me.
Jared Correia: Okay, two things to remember Jeena, J-E-E-N-A, and do not look at the other Jeena Cho Twitter profile.
Thanks again Jeena.
Jeena Cho: Thanks so much for having me.
Jared Correia: And this was Jeena Cho of JC Law Group PC, and other things that she has been doing, as you have heard throughout this podcast.
Finally, thanks all of you out there for listening. And remember, never look a boll weevil directly in the eye if you don’t have a small head of cabbage in your pocket, you will thank me later. Talk to you next time.
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