Why Diversity Matters

DiversityDiversity? Who cares? Sure it would be “nice to have” but we’ve got a bottom line to think about! Partners gotta eat, you know. Who has money for a diversity initiative? Haven’t we talked enough about women? I’m so tired of it all. Is this really that big a deal?

Why Diversity Matters

Yes, it is. But not necessarily for the reasons you think.

Even if you personally couldn’t care less about the existential benefits of equality, you should still care about having diverse people around in your law practice. Why?

Because they might save you from your own stupidity. They see things you don’t. This is a good thing.

For example. I clerked in a federal district court. The longest trial we had in my tenure was a three-week sexual harassment/discrimination/retaliation case.

I knew who was going to win as soon as the jury was picked.

Given that the case went all the way to a jury verdict, with absolutely devastating results for the defendants, defense counsel didn’t appear to share this knowledge.

What Did Defense Counsel Miss?

What did I realize that he didn’t? That most of the jury would be highly skeptical of his case. Not to say they wouldn’t try to put aside any preconceived notions and hear him out, but, if you were defending a discrimination case, would you voluntarily include a young, rather butch lesbian on the jury? (No, I didn’t ask her if she was a lesbian, but I’m 99% sure she was, and, even if she wasn’t technically, she would have been treated as if she was, resulting in a similar life experience.) How about a young Latino woman? Or a middle-aged African-American woman?

If I’m helping the defense pick the jury, I’m looking at these people (and several other members of the jury who were similarly situated) and thinking, “Hum, these are people who probably have personal experience with discrimination. Do I really want them deciding if my clients retaliated against the plaintiff when she reported that her boss was sexually harassing her? No, I don’t think so.”

But this thought apparently didn’t run through the minds of the lead defense counsel (a grey-haired white guy) or anyone else on his team of middle-aged white guys. Did they not notice? Did they not care? Did they not think it would matter? I have no idea. But it was a HUGE miscalculation.

Meanwhile, at plaintiff’s table, the female lead counsel and her young female second chair (who I also think was probably a lesbian) looked like the cats who caught the canary. They couldn’t believe their luck, quickly bonded with the jury, and ended up with a huge verdict.

When it was announced, everyone at the defense table was stunned, but no one who’d been paying attention — and had sufficient perspective to understand what they were seeing — was surprised at all.

Maybe they still would have lost the case, but the playing field would have been a lot more level had the all-white, all-male defense team had someone around to say, “Based on my life experience, which is really different from your life experience, I think we should strike this person from the jury. I just don’t think they’re going to be on our side in the end, even if we present a great case.”

Caring about diversity helps you keep those people around. Then you just have to remember to listen to them!

— – —

Check out our new series on women in the law: The Confidence Game, and let’s talk about why women aren’t getting ahead in the legal profession, and what can be done about it.

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Image by Piotr Bizior via stock.xchng.


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Comments

  1. Tanya Sinha says:

    Thank you for starting this series! As a fellow young wom*n student in the law – I appreciate someone writing about the issues we face 😀 Look foward to seeing future articles.

  2. Hello,

    I am a law school diversity / multicultural affairs administrator. I referenced your story during a recent training session regarding the value of diversity in the legal profession. Thanks for sharing this information!

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