Note: This Policy Practicum has passed.
Diversity and inclusion are critical to the creation of positive educational environments — classrooms, co-curricular and extra-curricular settings in which the very hardest questions can be asked, the most imaginative answers explored, and different perspectives heard. Diversity and inclusion also promote academic freedom by creating climates in which faculty and students can challenge conventional wisdom, expose cognitive biases, and develop innovative ideas. For lawyers, and therefore for law students, the ability to communicate, collaborate, negotiate, and advocate across cultural differences (what the literature refers to as “cultural competence”) is intimately linked to professional competence given the diversity of 21st century legal workplaces, the range of clients (both individual and institutional) lawyers represent, the increasingly global nature of all areas of legal practice, and of course the heterogeneity of legal, social, moral, economic, and political problems lawyers are asked to solve in a pluralistic society.
As some of the most acute legal problems involve persistent failures of the law itself in the treatment of racial, ethnic, religious and other minorities, the manner in which cultural competence is addressed in legal education is of singular importance. The American Bar Association has tied cultural competence to professional competence in its new legal education standards and parallel provisions in some state bar admission standards have been developed in response to the ABA. In other professions (e.g., medicine, social work, psychology, and psychiatry) cultural competence and inclusive learning and workplace practices are core elements of professional training.
Nationally, however, law schools have lagged behind other professions in the development and implementation of curricular initiatives to teach this core professional skill. National and state bar associations have spent decades reporting on persistent underrepresentation, bias (particularly with respect to race and gender), and discrimination in the practice of law. However, the distinctive responsibilities of law schools to structure legal education to promote equity in the profession has received less attention. According to 2010 Census data, people of color comprise approximately 36 percent of the population of the United States and they make up a comparable percentage of Stanford Law School’s entering classes. However, underrepresentation persists for some racial and ethnic minorities in entering law school classes, and the gaps widen once lawyers of color enter practice, especially at elite levels of the bar (tenured faculty positions, deanships, equity law partnerships, general counsels, and the bench). Although there is relative gender parity in Stanford Law School’s entering classes, underrepresentation persists nationally in bar admission and especially at elite levels of the bar.
In this policy practicum, students will have the opportunity to work with the Stanford Law School Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion to research and develop a wide range of policy initiatives on these and related issues. The goal will not just be to study and recommend adoption of best practices but to explore and innovate new practices.