We criticize on this Blog the lack of diversity inside the corporate board room. The latest statistics show that women represent about 12% of directors of public companies; people of color around 6%. There is another place that could use some substantial improvement in diversity: law clerks for federal judges.
Upon graduation, there is nothing more prestigious than clerking for a judge, particularly a federal judge. Recent graduates work for a year or two as a legal assistant to the judge, doing research and writing draft opinions. After having spent three years reading opinions in law school, the opportunity to actually craft language that can affect future parties and interpretations is a particularly daunting but exciting experience.
Judicial clerkships, because of both the skills learned (my legal writing skills improved immeasurably after a year of writing draft opinions and memos) and the competitiveness of the position, are stepping stones for other positions, whether in academia, the government, or prominent firms in the major cities.
Yet as the National Law Journal reports, these coveted positions are mostly foreclosed to people of color. While there is some balance among the genders, African Americans and Hispanics at the appellate court level garnered around 2% each of these positions. And guess what? That percentage is down from 2006 when it was around 3%. At the district court level, these grounds obtained about 3% of the position, a percentage that mostly held steady since 2006.
What is the explanation? You can guess; the lack of qualified candidates, the same explanation always given. As the NLJ indicated: "Judges have long said recruiting minority attorneys is difficult."
In fact, there are qualified candidates. One suspects, however, that many judges screen on the basis of law school, largely limiting their search to the very top schools. For a table showing the relationship between law schools and judicial clerkships, go here. The absence of qualified candidates in those circumstances means the absence of qualified candidates at a limited array of schools.
Law clerks do not have to exactly mirror the percentage within the population as a whole. But when numbers are this low, there is a problem. The starting point for any resolution is to have judges comb the application pool for qualified candidates from all law schools, not just a chosen few.