Feb. 17, 2022 – Law schools that embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion will be better equipped to serve the legal profession and society, said UH Law Center Dean Leonard M. Baynes in a recent podcast episode of EdUp Legal.
Hosted by Patricia Roberts, Dean of St. Mary’s University School of Law, the podcast episode addresses the importance of bolstering pre-law pipeline programs, diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal field.
Baynes, a first-generation college student whose parents immigrated to the U.S., said he met “so few others” like him throughout his career journey.
“In my path, I’ve often been the first,” he said.
At Western New England University School of Law, where Baynes had his first teaching position, he was the first person of color to be tenured. Baynes, the ninth dean of the UH Law Center, is also the Law Center’s first black dean.
“There are so many firsts I have accomplished because of the circumstances of our society, where there were not as many opportunities for people of color,” Baynes said. “That’s the reason why, when I finally became a law professor, I said to myself, ‘We’ve got to do better.’”
Baynes launched the UH Law Center’s award-winning Pre-Law Pipeline Program in hopes of encouraging and equipping students of color with the tools they need to be successful in the legal field. It’s about more than just boosting LSAT scores, according to Baynes.
Students “need the support. They need the mentoring,” he said. “The most important thing they need is the feeling of belonging and the feeling that people care and believe they can be successful.”
But diversifying the legal profession via pipeline programs is just one piece of the puzzle, Roberts said, pointing to Baynes’ work initiating the Black Lawyers Matter Conference.
The Black Lawyers Matter Conference seeks to create a space for dialogue on how the legal profession––from aspiring students to law firms and legal academics––can advance toward becoming a more diverse, equitable field.
“I hope it's going to be an annual event where we really take stock every year of where we are and see if we can move the needle in some way,” Baynes said.
As for the future of the nation’s law schools and the legal field as a whole, Baynes said he predicts that diversity, equity, and inclusion will continue to be embraced.
As demographics change across the country, and with some regions or schools in particular facing population decline, it’ll be important for some institutions who haven’t yet seen the value in diversity to begin to change their thinking, Baynes said.
“There’s going to be much more commitment to diversity, much more commitment to antiracism, anti-discrimination,” Baynes said. “I think there’s going to be a lot more than I see already happening.”
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