State Bar Releases Stats on Minority Attorneys
Albuquerque, N.M. – The State Bar of New Mexico’s Committee on Diversity in the Legal Profession recently released the third decennial report on the status of minority attorneys in New Mexico. The report addresses a variety of subjects ranging from narrowing disparities in bar examination passage rates to the impact of the judicial selection process on the diversity of New Mexico courts. One of the primary purposes of the report is to focus on “understanding and valuing diversity in the profession, as such diversity increases the public’s perception of fairness, equal access to the courts and the integrity of the judicial system.”
The report is comprehensive in nature and touches upon topics such as demographic data, differential treatment or demeaning comments, career opportunities, the bar examination, disciplinary sanctions, and leadership relative to all minority groups, to name a few. Such data, according to the report, will help the State Bar identify barriers that may impede the full integration of minorities into the practice of law and point to actions and strategies to assist minority lawyers. The current report is the third detailed study published since 1990.
According to the report, New Mexico is a minority-majority state in which racial and ethnic minorities comprise 54 percent of the total adult population. Conversely, ethnic/racial minorities constitute only 23 percent of the active in-state members of the State Bar of New Mexico, nearly identical to that observed in 1998.
“Between 1990 and 1999, ethnic/racial minority lawyers increased from 18 percent to 22 percent of active in-state members. However, admission rates to the State Bar over the last ten years have tempered that optimism, as ethnic/racial minorities gained but a single point to the present total of 23 percent,” the report notes.
The total number of women actively practicing law in New Mexico has significantly increased, moving from 28 percent in 1989 to 38 percent in 2009. When gender and ethnic/racial makeup are considered, white males presently comprise 48 percent of all active in-state lawyers; 29 percent are white females; 11 percent are Hispanic males; and 7 percent are Hispanic females. Native Americans comprise only three percent; one percent is African American; and one percent is Asian.
The University of New Mexico School of Law, a critical factor in maintaining the diversity of the State Bar at present levels, remains a model of diversity with a national reputation. Minority enrollment at the School of Law has ranged from 34 percent to 46 percent over the last decade, with women averaging 56 percent of total enrollment. The school consistently awards 30 percent of its degrees to Hispanics and has a law faculty that is 23 percent Hispanic. The UNM School of Law was recently named first place for the third consecutive year by Hispanic Business magazine in its report on the top ten law schools.
In addition, the diversity in district and appellate courts has increased significantly over the past decade. Of the state’s 166 current metropolitan, district and appellate judges, 38 percent are ethnic/racial minorities.
Based on survey results, the Committee on Diversity in the Legal Profession came away with 17 recommendations for consideration by the State Bar leadership to address issues described in the report. Among them are to continue to maintain statistical data on minority groups, to collaborate with the state’s minority bar associations to promote increased and equitable minority participation and leadership, to develop a mentor program for new or recent admittees to the State Bar, and to encourage law firms throughout New Mexico to increase diversity in applicant pools and enhance minority career advancement.
Each of the 5,322 active in-state members of the State Bar of New Mexico was invited to participate in the survey. The committee received 1,318 completed surveys, representing a response rate of 25 percent.
The report notes that the composition of the State Bar of New Mexico is highly diverse compared with virtually every other state in the nation, according to the American Bar Association’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession.
The report also commends the support of the State Bar of New Mexico’s Board of Bar Commissioners and the continuing encouragement of the New Mexico Supreme Court, stating that their “collective commitment to diversity in the legal profession has been constant and unwavering.”
The State Bar of New Mexico was organized in 1886 and is composed of more than 8500 members. Its purposes are to aid the courts in administering justice and preserving the rule of law, and to foster a high standard of integrity and competence within the legal profession.