Given the many critical functions that lawyers play in our democratic society, the legal profession is one of the most influential and must be as diverse as the population it serves. Our society is founded on the rule of law, including governing, legislating, advocating, prosecuting, and adjudicating functions at all levels of the public sector, as well as running corporations, law firms and nonprofit organizations in the private sector.
Underrepresentation of certain segments negatively affects the upward mobility and economic empowerment of such individuals and the quality and quantity of legal services available to them. It also results in a lack of diverse perspectives and promotes the passage of unfair or biased laws.
For more than 40 years, the Hispanic National Bar Association has been at the forefront of effectively promoting diversity and inclusion to increase Hispanics’ representation in the legal profession. Founded in 1972, the HNBA is the only nonprofit, nonpartisan national membership organization representing the interests of Hispanic attorneys, judges, legislators, law professors, law students, paralegals, and other legal professionals in the United States.
It is uniquely positioned to address the many and complex barriers that current and future Hispanic legal professionals face.
Why is this so important? According to a 2016 Bureau of Labor statistics survey, law is still one of the nation’s least racially diverse professions, with 85 percent of lawyers white. Other professions are significantly more diverse — for example, 78 percent of elementary and middle school teachers; 76 percent of news analysts, reporters, or correspondents; 74 percent of architects and engineers; 72 percent of accountants; 67 percent of physicians and surgeons; 67 percent of dentists; and 66 percent of computer programmers are white.
The number of Hispanics represented in the legal profession — only 5 percent — is particularly abysmal, and less than 2 percent of those Hispanic lawyers are women. Yet, numbering more than 57 million people, Hispanics account for 18 percent of the general U.S. population, the nation’s largest ethnic population demographic. Latinos are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs and small business owners. Today, one in every four children in the United States, 25 percent, is Hispanic, and since 2000, Hispanic job gains have accounted for 66 percent of the total U.S. job growth, continuing to drive expansion of the nation’s workforce. Notably, Latinos also have a $1.5 trillion purchasing power, projected to grow to $1.9 trillion by 2019.
The HNBA provides professional and business development and networking opportunities to its members and sponsors via national and regional events and programs; strives to empower the Hispanic community through legal, financial, and educational literacy initiatives; and strengthens the educational pipeline by creating opportunities for Latino students through partnerships with corporate America and the public and non-profit sectors. It also advocates before the White House and on Capitol Hill for solutions to issues that affect the Hispanic community generally; and works to improve recruitment, retention and promotion of Latino attorneys to the state and federal judiciary and other executive appointments, general counsel positions, and C-suite corporate executive positions including corporate boards of directors.
This week, the HNBA brings its national mission and voice to Miami, holding its eighth annual Corporate Counsel Conference and 22nd annual Uvaldo Herrera Moot Court Competition.
Without a doubt, considering the significant Hispanic presence in the United States, as well as the uncertain times our country currently is experiencing, the HNBA’s commendable work and its overall mission of protecting and promoting the rights of Hispanic legal professionals are more relevant than ever.
Irene Oria is special counsel at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP.