Daniel Henry was studying to become an engineer, but something wasn’t right.
Studying for his undergraduate engineering courses at the University of Houston was boring—a real chore—and he couldn’t see himself in the field for the rest of his life. Then an African-American studies course made him realize his true passion was fighting for justice and helping the black community.
That question lead him to enroll in an innovative, intense diversity program at the University of Houston Law Center, unprecedented among Texas law schools and rare among nationwide law schools, which has won national accolades from diversity advocates.
“I just went to learn about the legal field, and I came out knowing [and] fighting for justice as an attorney was my purpose,” Henry said.
In the past few years, some of the country’s most elite law reviews have elected students of color as editors-in-chief, a signal that yearslong diversity efforts might finally be paying off.
Historically speaking, law reviews have struggled to represent students of color and women equally among their editors—jobs that can open doors to prestigious judicial clerkships and Big Law employment. It’s been even harder for underrepresented students to win the coveted editor-in-chief role, as statistically, leadership posts at law reviews have overrepresented white male law students.
Are the times changing?
Texas legal educators are striving to recruit racially and ethnically diverse law students, but there’s one law school that’s excelling hand-over-fist compared to the others.
With 91 percent of its current students hailing from minority racial and ethnic backgrounds, Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law takes the top spot when it comes to a diverse student body.
Texas Lawyer analyzed demographic data from the 10 Texas law schools and ranked them based on the percentage of minority students. Schools submit data annually to the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which is responsible for accrediting law schools.
The legal profession’s own #MeToo movement is playing out on Twitter.
Under the hashtag #LadyLawyerDiaries, the discussion over the last year has evolved to tackle serious and pervasive issues surrounding women in the law. It’s become a movement that enables female attorneys to speak out collectively about gender bias and sexual harassment in the legal profession.
We talked with Greenberg Traurig partner Kendyl Hanks of Austin, one woman—along with Goodwin associate Jaime Santos of Washington, D.C.—among a core group of about 15 female attorneys who have joined forces to tweet as one under the @LadyLawyerDiaryhandle. The group ranges in age from 20 to 40, coming from diverse legal backgrounds—law clerks, court staff attorneys, law firm associates and partners, law professors, in-house counsel.
In light of a recent study showing female lawyers aren’t getting many speaking roles in the courtroom, one federal judge in Texas noted that she’s indirectly increased opportunities for women attorneys by encouraging firms to send young lawyers to argue at hearings.
While trying to provide courtroom experience to young lawyers in the age of the vanishing jury trial, Chief Judge Barbara Lynn of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas created a voluntary rule in her court about 10 years ago that said if firms sent young attorneys to argue their own briefs and motions at hearings, she would be more likely to grant an oral argument. Even though her main goal was training the lawyers of the future, many of those getting opportunities are women and minorities—something she hoped would happen. Those opportunities have been amplified as 20 to 30 other federal judges have followed Lynn’s lead and created young lawyer rules of their own.