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UH Law Center Dean Baynes says laws schools play a key role in diversifying legal profession in LSAC podcast

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University of Houston Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes

Nov. 1, 2021 - UHLC Dean Leonard M. Baynes, a leading voice for diversity equity, and inclusion in legal education, was recently featured in an episode of Keeping Up to Data, a podcast by the Law School Admission Council.

“I was delighted to be invited to participate to discuss the underrepresentation of people of color in the legal profession and to discuss the Black Lawyers Matter conference,” Baynes said.

Baynes spoke with podcast host and LSAC executive vice president for operations Susan Krinsky about racial disparities in the legal profession, actionable steps to increasing diversity, and the path forward for law schools and legal employers.

The Black Lawyers Matter Conference, held for the first-time last year following the tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, is one forum aimed at improving diversity and offering people a “toolkit” for how to achieve it, Baynes said.

The work of diversifying the legal field “has to be done by all of us,” Baynes said, including law school faculty, staff, and alumni as well as legal employers, judges, and law firms. It’s a “community-wide effort,” he said.

“Students of color need to feel welcomed and appreciated in [law] spaces, and the content of our courses and our curriculum needs to be more accessible to them,” he said.

Baynes said he believes that one reason why students of color are underrepresented in the legal field is because “deep down, a lot of people still question their capabilities and their qualifications.”

For example, he said that legal employers and law schools often look for “unicorn” applicants, meaning an “exceptional Black or Latinx candidate,” according to Baynes, which creates a challenge from the start because there are “very few exceptional candidates generally.”

This method of seeking diversity is ineffective because it essentially leads to several institutions pursuing the same group of students and they end up not getting that shiny unicorn, Baynes said. It’s an effort toward diversity, but it’s not the “right” effort.

“People need to soul-search and figure out what they really need to do to make a difference,” Baynes said. “Sometimes, if you can't find that candidate that you're looking for, you have to try to make the candidate. That's why pipeline programs are so important.”

Equipping and empowering aspiring and current lawyers of color is part of what will “make our world a much more diverse place,” Baynes said.

“The fact that we have so few African-American or Latinx lawyers is something that we all should be concerned about. Especially as our society becomes more diverse,” Baynes said, adding that by 2044, a majority of citizens will be Black, Latinx, Asian-Americans and Indigenous. By that time, many of today’s law students will be in the “prime of their careers.”

“And if our legal system is not more diverse, the population's going to feel like they are not getting justice, because there's not going to be people like them judging them. So, we really need to do a better job at all of this.”

Click here to listen to Dean Baynes on the LSAC podcast.

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