Andrea M. Alonso
*Originally published in the
DRI – The Voice of the Defense Bar
February 11, 2013

Diversity in American law firms is woefully inadequate. The Association for Legal Career Professionals reports at the associate level only 4.29% of all associates are African American with 2.61% being women. Numbers of Hispanic associates lag behind. Associates total 3.83% with women making up only 1.9%. The statistics are much worse for partners. African American partners only constitute 1.71% of partners with women representing .58%. Hispanic partners are 1.92% of the population with women only making up .48% of partners. Women and Minorities in Law Firms – By Race and Ethnicity, NALP BULLETIN (Jan. 2012), available at

Law firms are not sensitive enough to the need for diversifying the workplace and are failing to increase the ranks of minority associates and partners in firms. How then does a minority candidate emphasize his diversity in the job search? The answer is very carefully…with forethought and tact.

Before the interview process, the law student or associate should seek out minority mentors, acquaintances or fellow alumni to obtain an interview at a firm. Mentors can be found in the workplace, at law schools, in professional organizations even family social settings. These priceless connections must be used to obtain entry into the world of private practice and corporations. A carefully prepared resume should be mailed to them in an attempt to obtain the much sought after interview.

Any resume must be flawless. Too often resumes contain basic grammatical errors and misspellings. This is simply not acceptable. A resume must artfully reflect the diversity of the candidate. The candidate must be sure to mention that they are members of minority law student or bar associations such as BALSA, LALSA or APALSA. Any community work or pro bono services should be noted in the resume.

In any interview the key to success is preparation. The candidate must know the firm its business and its hierarchy. The minority candidate should look for minority partners and associates to meet or talk to before the interview. Sometimes a common law school, fraternity or law student activity serves as a basis for an introduction. Most partners or associates would be glad to speak to a prospective candidate about their firm, the work they do and the interviewer.

Although individualism is an admirable trait, the minority candidate must conform with the dress code of the firm or corporation at which he is interviewing. Generally, the law is a very conservative profession. The interview is not the place to wear a guayabera shirt, a dashiki or any other expression of ethnic pride. Facial jewelry on both males and females is not acceptable in most law firms or corporations.

One of the most important components to an interview is the ability to express oneself. The interviewer knows that you are intelligent merely by looking at your resume which reflects your accomplishments. You would not be at the interview stage if the recruiting committee did not think you were qualified. What they want to see is your ability to converse professionally with someone you do not know while at the same time demonstration and expressing the passion that you have for the area of law you are seeking to practice. You may demonstrate enthusiasm for your work by your academic performance in law school; discussing the field of law that interests you; as well as by pointing out the activities that you invested your time with including diversity functions and community service activities. If you have mentored a student, spoken at career days in your high school or worked in neighborhood organizations mention this. Diversity is more than one's background, it also is measured by one's connection to his or her identity.

Passion cannot be confused with opinions on politics, religion or ethnicity. These topics should not be raised unless they flow naturally from your resume and the interviewer seeks to discuss them. One important area that young attorneys tend to err in is using humor. Funny answers to serious questions will only demonstrate your lack of judgment.

 In general, ethnicity or gender should not be discussed unless the interviewer brings them up first. Do not ask personal questions of the interviewer. This is inappropriate. Do not search for a common ethnic or religious bond. It should be a segue from the conversation. Do not bring up to the interviewer that you are of the same ethnicity, from the same city or of the same background. He or she is usually very much aware of it. Once the interviewer opens the door, it is completely acceptable to go with it and expand upon why you think this makes you a better lawyer and more valuable associate. Having similar skin tones or coming from the same state alone, is not a selling point. You must demonstrate why these similarities might add value to the firm or corporation.

Women typically make a mistake in presuming that a woman interviewer is a friend. Do not assume that. Do not ask personal questions on the initial interview on how to balance raising a family and what is the maternity leave policy. Most women partners or corporate executives are single minded and driven in their pursuit of professional excellence. Do not be fooled by her children's school pictures on the desk. This is not to say that they are not interested in a work-life balance but it is not to be discussed on the initial interview. In the same vein, do not assume a minority partner is a friend or mentor. First and foremost, they are interested in recruiting bright young lawyers who will be assets to the firm. They are concerned with whether you can produce an outstanding legal product, work with clients and can possibly develop a book of business. The diversity you bring to the table is an enormous asset when it is coupled with legal talent and persistence in the workplace. Most law firms and corporations are now aware that diversity brings diversity. In order to expand their client base they must expand their associate and partner base. Lawyers can no longer be cookie cutter copies of the generations of attorneys before them. The corporate and legal world must leave their traditional social comfort zone and venture into new areas of the population for its legal staff.

Once the interviewer brings up the issue of diversity, you are free to expound on your assets as a diverse candidate. Your ability to relate to people other than senior partners and fellow lawyers is your greatest gift. Superb politicians bring to the table the ability to connect with all people. Your diverse life experience enables you to gain the confidence of all you come in contact with in the profession, not only the small segment of society which populates the ranks of the law firms.

Law firms and corporations do not reflect the world they are serving. They are instead ivory towers of well educated attorneys from elite educational institutions. Surveys demonstrate that most lawyers in large firms not only come from the same law school but from the same socio-economic backgrounds as well. The diverse candidate brings to the table the ability to relate to the real world reflective of our nation and the global community. The candidate must finesse emphasizing his or her diversity while at the same time not grasping for it at the interview. While it can be a difficult balance, it is one that can be achieved with planning and forethought.