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Leaders of the State Bar of California say they’re tired of overseeing a legal profession that doesn’t reflect California’s rainbow of races and economic classes. So they’re taking steps to do something about the problem. Under the guidance of President James Heiting, the state bar is working toward diversifying the next generation of lawyers by trying to set up a support network that would help guide poor kids of all races into a legal career. Heiting’s so-called Diversity Pipeline hopes to cut down on the economic and cultural barriers that keep many of the state’s poorer residents from even contemplating a career in the law. A 2001 state bar membership survey showed that only 17% of California’s 200,000-plus attorneys are minorities, while a 2004 study by the Law School Admission Council revealed that Caucasians made up nearly 60% of all students enrolled at California law schools accredited by the ABA. Pipeline proponents hope to work with schools and other organizations in making students aware of the law as a profession as early as junior high school and, with the state bar acting as an information gatekeeper, provide online access to programs designed to help them succeed academically. For example, local efforts could be patterned on a St. Louis school program that sends volunteer lawyers into high school classrooms, or a Boston bar project that oversees legal career days for college students. Ruthe Ashley, a member of the state bar board of governors who who chairs Heiting’s Diversity Pipeline Task Force, said mentoring could even continue long after a person nails down his first job as a lawyer. “Once we get them in the law firm,” she said, “we don’t want to lose them.” Ashley, assistant dean of career and professional development at University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, Calif., has been integrally involved in the pipeline concept for years, first with the American Bar Association and then as the 2002 president of the National Asian Pacific Islander Bar Association. She also has been involved with an educational pipeline at McGeorge. In fact, it was Ashley who brought the pipeline concept to Heiting’s attention. As head of the state bar’s task force, Ashley worked with dozens of professionals from courts, bar associations, public schools, law schools, government agencies and major corporations-such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Intel Corp.-in examining various pipeline programs. “Everyone needs to collaborate with each other,” she said. The hope is to get the legal profession more in line with the state’s demographics. While Caucasians made up 83% of California’s lawyers in 2001, the 2000 census showed they made up only about 47% of the state’s population. State bar leaders say it’s especially important to get California’s poorest students interested in the law, a profession widely regarded as one of the least diversified in the country.
DIVERSITY ‘Invisible’ attorneys seek notice Senior attorneys fall by the wayside True diversity means putting the focus on retention Women hold the keys to their success The carrot didn’t work, so clients apply the stick Trying for an early start on the ‘diversity pipeline’

“The law touches every aspect of every community,” Heiting said, “so when these people that are coming up are invested in the law and invested in being lawyers and judges, they will bring their communities along with them. And our society as a whole will profit.” Covering everyone Ashley and Heiting, a partner in Heiting & Irwin in Riverside, Calif., who grew up so poor that his family’s toilet facility was a two-seat outhouse, make it clear, though, that the pipeline program isn’t only geared to minorities. It’s also going to target poor whites, the disabled, gays and other individuals who traditionally have been underrepresented in the law. “This umbrella covers everyone,” Ashley said. Heiting and Ashley hope to have pipeline resources available on a state bar Web site within a couple of weeks. Heiting acknowledges, however, that it could be years before the project produces solid results. Nonetheless, he believes the effort is worthwhile. “It encourages the discouraged, enfranchises the disenfranchised and,” he said, “it gives a kind of renewal of hope to young people who might not be able to have a vision of success in the law.”

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