Otu on our April 2008 cover

Yesterday I talked about my interview with State Bar Diversity Director Godwin Otu. Our Q&A with him will run in our June issue.

(And thank you to Juliet Falevitch. She is the Manager of Marketing & Communications at the Phoenix School of Law. She has a wealth of experience as a producer and director, at Channel 12 and elsewhere. On Monday, she was a great host for our intrusive photo shoot and interview. We couldn’t have done it without her, and we owe her one.)

My conversation with Otu came at an opportune time. The American Bar Association is about to release a new report titled “Diversity in the Legal Profession: The Next Steps.” It will be issued on April 15, but we got an advance copy. Its findings are striking.

The 40-page report dedicates 17 of those pages to a series of recommendations, to (1) law schools and the academy, (2) law firms and corporate law departments, (3) government and the judiciary, and (4) bar associations.

Preceding those sections is a chapter called “Trends, Disappointments and New Directions.”

Not to be a killjoy, but let’s look at some of the findings of that chapter: 

  • “Despite decades of reports, task forces, and goals, in 2000 the legal profession remained about 90% Caucasian, with the national population at that time being about 70% Caucasian.”
  • [In the legal profession] “racial diversity has slowed considerably since 1995.”
  • “Even when diversity efforts were successful at recruitment, they often failed to improve the retention of diverse attorneys.”
  • “Law schools and law firms still tend to case the top part of the diverse applicant pool rather than focus on increasing the size of the pool.”
  • “By presuming the centrality of law firms, the legal profession has failed to address the reality that the majority of lawyers are in solo practices or very small partnerships.”

Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots. For instance, the ABA points to certain diversity strategies that are indicators of the more-successful programs across the country. They don’t name names, but say that “State bars and bar associations are beginning to realize the need for a paradigm shift along the educational pipeline.”

Given that, it’s good to note how much of the State Bar’s diversity and inclusion efforts have been focused on the pipeline, especially in the past year. And when Otu talks about the pipeline, he isn’t just trying to get more college kids to think about law school. He’s looking at grade school, middle school and high school, for cripe’s sake.

When Otu speaks about his department’s programs and initiatives, he is engaged, detailed and earnest. But when he talks about the young people who are affected by the initiatives, he smiles broadly, leans forward and speaks more quickly. He appears driven to reach the next generation.

Now that’s taking the long view.

Next Thursday, April 15, Otu and the State Bar are greeting the visiting ABA Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity, which will be meeting in Phoenix. I’m sure the visitors will have more to say about the new report. We’ll let you know.

The State Bar’s Diversity Department is here.

Click here for more on the ABA’s diversity efforts.