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Brad Smith’s primary role is as general counsel of Microsoft Corp., but he is also heading up a group of top lawyers tasked with finding ways to improve the legal profession’s dismal diversity record. Smith is the chairman of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity’s Pipeline Committee, which is seeking ways to get more minority students to enroll in law school. The council formed in 2009 with the goal of promoting diversity throughout the legal profession by involving top leaders at law firms and law departments, and it now counts more than 100 law firms and 65 corporations as members. On Monday, Smith spoke to more than 50 LCLD scholars assembled for a two-day conference in Chicago. LCLD scholars are students, mostly minorities, who have completed their first year of law school. The National Law Journal spoke with Smith about the many challenges to diversity in the legal profession and the council’s plans to improve diversity. His answers have been edited for Q: How do you think the legal profession is doing overall, as far as getting diverse people into the pipeline? A: I think at this point the challenges are outpacing our progress. The country is becoming more diverse every year, and yet the legal profession is becoming more diverse at a much slower pace. We see the ultimate goal as building a legal profession that is as diverse as the country we serve. Just think about how quickly the country is changing, and one can easily see how substantial that challenge really is. Q: We’ve been talking about pipeline issues for years. If all the previous efforts haven’t produced the desired results, what should the profession be doing? A: I think one of the problems we currently face is that many different law firms and companies are doing good things, but the work is extremely fragmented. In addition, the breadth of the pipeline challenge is so great that fragmentation can easily lead to a situation where we’re basically adding drops into the ocean, as far as our ability to have an impact. What we’ve found at LCLD is the need for focus in the first instance, and more collaboration in the second. By strategic focus, what we’re really calling on is for law firms and companies to persuade more college law graduates from diverse backgrounds to go to law school. The country right now is doing a better job of graduating African-Americans and Latinos and Hispanics from college than it is at sending them to law school. If the legal profession can make a difference in a single area that would have the most impact for our profession, it almost certainly comes in persuading more diverse people to go from college to law school. Q: Sure, but how do you propose to do that? A: What we’re doing at LCLD is focusing in a few key areas. First, we’re focused on college campuses themselves. We’re pursuing an opportunity to partner with law schools and undergraduate campuses to persuade more diverse college students to consider law as a profession. Second, we’re pursuing more programs that help prepare interested college students to take the LSAT, pass, and get into law school. If you think about the rigor that goes into a premed curriculum, we really don’t have anything comparable when it comes to prelaw curriculum. That’s not altogether bad, but what it does sometimes mean is that when you get to the lower end of the economic spectrum, people don’t necessarily have to same guidance and tools to get into law school. Q: Clearly you believe that companies and law firms have a responsibility to help diversify the profession. What about law schools? A: I think there is a real opportunity for law schools to join with law firms and law departments to try to build a more diverse student body. First, I think law schools have an opportunity to partner with colleges with whom they share a common campus. There’s probably no one better to help equip a college student to think about and get ready for law school than people already working in law schools as administrators or professors. We think it makes sense to expand the role that law schools play in this regard. Second, we are hopeful that law schools will pay more attention to the value of a diverse student body. One of the concerns in the profession is that the U.S. News & World Report [rankings] have sometimes focused law schools on a so-called “definition of excellence” that doesn’t pay any attention to having a diverse student body. Q: What is the purpose of the council’s conference? A: This event in Chicago gives us the opportunity to do three things. Of course it’s an opportunity to provide some students early in their career with some different perspectives and advice that will hopefully be helpful. Second, it’s an opportunity for people to meet each other from different law schools and meet people who are spending their summers at different places. Often it’s this kind of informal network that serves people well in life. Third, it’s an opportunity for us to learn from them. For those of us focused on trying to expand diversity in the profession, it’s important for us to have our ears open and really listen to the next generation of potential lawyers. If we’re going to attract more young people into the legal profession, I suspect some of the best advice we’ll get is from young people who have just entered the profession themselves. Q: It sounds like the council has set pretty lofty goals, as far as diversity. A: We really look at this as a long-term objective. It’s probably going to take until the end of this decade, even if we are successful, to expand diversity on the country’s law school campuses to match diversity among undergraduates. That means we need a combination of strategies that focuses both on attracting more college students to the law and helping diverse law students to become more successful. Third, it means we’re going to have to pilot projects that work, and then we’re going have to grow them to scale. That will require that different bar associations and institutions across the profession really come together to expand the resource pot.

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