Why does racial diversity in the legal profession, the largest and most powerful profession in the country, matter? The answer to that deceptively simple question requires a hard look at our society and our law schools. More than that, however, it requires a hard look at our democracy.

We are, after all, a democracy. And our democracy makes extraordinary use of lawyers-more than any other country in the world. So, why does racial diversity in our legal profession matter? I believe it matters with respect to our ability to function as a full democracy. In fact, diversity in our legal profession is essential to our ability to function as a full democracy. So, the stakes in this discussion about diversity in the legal profession are nothing less than the health of our democracy.

I am going to start in our legal past. We were once a profession that sought to be all White, just as we were once a democracy that sought to be all White. There were Black people for sure, but they were outside of democracy. There were a small number of Black lawyers for sure, but they were kept outside of the organized profession. Today’s relative diversity is a very recent development. I am going to begin by looking at our nondiverse past–I will use a different term in just a few minutes-and see how that lack of diversity impacted our democracy.

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