NYSBA Task Force, Led by Paul, Weiss, Releases Report on Advancing Diversity
September 20, 2023
As reported by Reuters, Law360 and other media outlets, on September 20, the New York State Bar Association’s Task Force on Advancing Diversity released a detailed, timely blueprint for law schools, corporations, law firms and courts to maintain and increase their diversity in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June decision barring race-conscious university admissions policies. The 50-member task force was co-chaired by firm Chairman Brad Karp, former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and included the chairs of 16 major law firms, the chief legal officers of 10 large corporations, five New York state judges and the deans of Columbia and NYU law schools. Litigation partner Liza Velazquez and ESG counsel Lissette Duran both played key roles in the completion of the 93-page report.
At a press conference at Paul, Weiss’s New York office, Loretta said the task force moved extremely quickly in order to ensure that corporations and institutions of higher education did not dismantle lawful diversity programs that are still permissible under the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. “The diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that have been developed by corporations and colleges over the past several decades have become part of the fabric of our society because they benefit all of our society,” she said. “A breadth of options remains for these organizations, who recognize that although talent is found throughout all our communities, equal opportunity is not.”
The potential fallout for the legal industry and wider business sector will be significant if diversity is not encouraged, Brad said. “Law firms and corporations that fail to prioritize diversity do so at their own peril. They will lose the talent war, suffer financial consequences and fall behind their competitors,” he said. “Even more important, supporting diversity, equity and inclusion is the right thing to do, morally and ethically.”
The report notes that corporate diversity efforts continue to be lawful, so long as they comply with federal anti-discrimination statutes such as Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and Section 1981 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code. Companies and law firms can continue to utilize a variety of lawful strategies in their outreach, recruitment, retention and promotion efforts. Recommendations include, among others, leveraging inclusive job postings; expanding recruiting efforts beyond the pool of traditional feeder schools; targeting outreach to diverse student organizations and diverse career fairs and leveraging relationships with bar associations; recruiting candidates who have taken alternate paths in school or their careers; implementing structural behavioral interviews; and engaging with pipeline programs for high school and college students. The report recommends that companies consider implementing development and retention programs that incorporate a range of tools, from affinity groups to mentorship to formal training and networking opportunities.
Lawful strategies for colleges and graduate schools include eliminating preferential treatment in admissions given to athletes, children of alumni and families of donors; moving away from standardized tests and grade point averages and focusing instead on how an applicant furthers a school’s goals and values; and employing race-neutral strategies. Increasing the availability of financial aid, providing diverse mentors and targeting scholarships for low-income students could also help increase diversity, the task force found.
Diversity in higher education is a powerful way to combat the tendency of many Americans to self-segregate, Secretary Johnson noted. “For many generations of American teenagers, higher education has been the first opportunity to broaden their horizons by living, socializing and learning with those different from themselves,” he said. “And over recent years diverse student bodies at colleges and universities have led to more diverse professions.”
Meanwhile, courts should promote judgeships as viable career opportunities for attorneys of all backgrounds and develop strategic plans to bolster diversity, the task force recommended.