Read the May 2011 diversity cover story, “How Leading Companies Are Prioritizing Diversity Early in the Pipeline.”

In February, the State Bar of California’s Council on Access and Fairness announced it was readying a proposal that U.S. News and World Report make diversity account for 15 percent of the magazine’s overall law school rankings. Craig Holden, a partner at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, is chair of the Council on Access and Fairness.

InsideCounsel: Why focus on the U.S. News rankings?

Holden: It really has a tremendous impact on diversity within the legal profession, unwittingly so. Obviously they’re in the business of selling magazines, and these rankings have taken on a life of their own. Students rely upon them almost to the exclusion of other criteria, and as employers and hiring managers, we rely upon them in deciding how we’re going to hire and determine whether applicants have sufficient pedigree for our organizations. It really has become a game-changer in many ways. Law schools are developing policies basically designed to placate the rankings criteria at the expense of everything else (see Q&A with Leonard Baynes, p. XX).

Was U.S. News open to the proposal?

We met with Bob Morse, director of data at U.S. News, and shared some of the empirical and anecdotal data on this, and we were pleasantly surprised he didn’t reject us out of hand. He needs further details to consider things, but he was certainly open to a dialogue. It’s the diverse and multicultural society we live in that really affects viewpoints and perspectives. And when you’re dealing with law schools, where critical thinking and perspectives are important, exposure to diversity really matters. We’ve engaged all aspects of the profession in getting involved and saying they want to see change in this area–law firms, corporate counsel, scholars, researchers, judges.