When it comes to adding diversity to the legal profession, I am a one-woman diversity band - an African-American woman from the South who chose law as a second career. I now own my own law firm and have had to fight hard for the successes I have achieved.
My husband and I made tremendous sacrifices in order for me to attend the Charleston School of Law. I honored the beliefs that drew me to the school's public-service mission by working for South Carolina Legal Services directly after law school. And I continue to honor that mission in my private practice today.
I may be relatively new to the practice of law, but I have been around long enough to recognize that the legal profession would be improved by increasing the overall diversity of its members. My law school had as its motto, "pro bono populi" - for the good of the people. Well, to do good for all people, we need more black lawyers, something that was important to me as an active member of CSOL's Black Law Student Association. And we need more Mexican-American lawyers. We need more bilingual lawyers, more second-career lawyers, and more lawyers with backgrounds in medicine and business and technology. Our profession needs to be more accessible to people who grow up in poverty and to folks who live with the challenges of physical disability.
So I read the op-ed from Rep. Seth Whipper in Tuesday's Post and Courier with great interest - we share a goal of increasing the diversity of our profession, and I admire his long and steadfast commitment to public service. But I must part ways with his proposed solution.
Rep. Whipper encourages us to welcome InfiLaw because it will graduate a more diverse group of students. He cites InfiLaw's own statistics to claim that its existing schools boast impressive minority numbers - all hovering at about 40 percent. He tells us that InfiLaw works hard to identify minority students who can excel despite poor test scores. It all sounds pretty good at first.
The problem is that those numbers only tell part of the story. InfiLaw does indeed attract minority students with low test scores; it sells them expensive pre-law courses and obscures the devastatingly low rate of legal employment for its schools graduates.
Those numbers don't tell the story of the countless students - minority and otherwise - who never make it to graduation.
Those numbers do not explain why the percentage of minority first-year students at InfiLaw schools is consistently significantly higher than the percentage of minority graduates.
So while I applaud any effort to make my profession look more like my community, I implore Rep. Whipper and anyone who cares about diversity and quality - values that need not be in competition with one another - to look beyond InfiLaw's rhetoric.
More minority law students does not guarantee more minority lawyers. In the most recent data published by the American Bar Association, the Charleston School of Law graduated 21 minority students out of a class of 196. Charlotte School of Law, the nearest InfiLaw school, graduated 11 minority students out of a class of 98.
All while the Charlotte School of Law has roughly 400 more students than Charleston. So much for expanding diversity and opportunity.
Richardine Singleton-Brown is an attorney in North Charleston.
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