Updated: Nov 23, 2021
The Demands of the Profession
Law school and your job will naturally, whether you like it or not (forget your feelings) push you to your outer limits mentally, physically, and emotionally. If you just started law school, or if you can think back to your first year, you probably realized quickly that in order to keep up, it forces you to rid yourself of the irrelevant and unnecessary distractions in your life due to its mentally demanding and time-consuming nature. For these same reasons it can also be isolating at times because it requires all your focus and attention. The nature of the work calls you to always be at the demand of your clients whether that be your professors in school, or internal and external clients at your job. The tricky part is, our brains and minds are our currency. We literally make our coin off of the way that we think. That’s good because it separates us and allows us to put a well deserved price tag on the way that we think, but also bad because the demands we’re up against personally, professionally, and politically, both in law school and early on in our career, also requires our minds to have the capacity to navigate through it. Over time, you will get used to it as your endurance will improve, but the more aware you are of what you’re up against, the more prepared you are for some of the bullshit that comes with it.
This process, although at times may seem inhumane and cause you to question your decisions, has very rewarding benefits including being an agent of change, influencing the rules that make up our society, helping marginalized groups of people, and offering different perspectives and solutions for people who are in really tough spots.
Extra Pressures on Minority Legal Professionals
As if being a lawyer isn’t already tough, we as minorities in a predominantly white space have to navigate additional obstacles that our white counterparts simply don’t have to think twice about (We should be paid a separate salary for that alone). We as minorities have an extra layer of mental demands to navigate through and so we need a toolkit of resources to stay mentally tough enough to do this thing effectively on the daily.
Let’s check out the stats for a second: Just 5% of all lawyers are Black, the same percentage as 10 years ago, while 13.4% of the U.S. population is Black. Comparably, 5% of all lawyers are Hispanic, up from 4% a decade earlier, although 18.5% of the U.S. population is Hispanic. Two percent of all lawyers are Asian, up only 0.4% from 10 years ago, while almost 6% of the U.S. population is Asian. To put it straight (even though it’s apparent, yet not talked about nearly enough) the people we see in management and leadership positions in the law are mostly white males. They are the individuals who are pulling the strings and making the decisions, not only when it comes to influencing the law, but also when it comes to deciding who to hire or who to help. As long as there is a lack of diversity in management and leadership positions, the efforts to make real change and a real push for diversity in the field of law will be tough. The progress will be slow. So, the goal is to not only retain the minority attorneys we have now, but also grow that amount to further diversify our profession.
Although steps have been taken to make the legal field a more inclusive environment, some of the obstacles we’re up against have been systematically in place for years. The issue starts with a lack of equal opportunities and limited access to resources. We all know that law school is expensive, which means that less privileged individuals (typically minorities) cannot afford to go. Inner city schools lack the resources to support young people in their hopes of becoming an attorney and may lack the resources or knowledge to understand how to make that career path visible and therefore a viable option for young minorities to pursue. Then, once we finally do get through law school and graduate, we see that there isn’t as much opportunity in the field so we leave the profession altogether.
Since there aren’t many minorities in the legal field, it presents a challenge for the ones that are to take up space, overcome the unconscious (and conscious) bias and stereotypes, and create opportunities for others. As we make steps towards having a more inclusive and diverse field, the challenge before us is retaining the minority students making their way through law school and the brilliant and effective minority lawyers we do have, and making their navigation through the profession a little easier. This is where being aware of what we’re up against and equipping ourselves with the correct tools and resources can be the difference maker in our experiences in the profession. It takes mental fortitude to be a lawyer in general, but to be a minority attorney in this social and political climate with the looming historical facts and statistics, you need an extra layer of grit, mental toughness, and self care routines that keep your cup full to do your job effectively and efficiently and hopefully make it easier for the person coming behind you.
Due to systematic racism, the challenges and pressures minorities face are different, requiring various tools to overcome the challenges and mitigate the pressures that come with being in this profession. Taking care of yourself and knowing what gives you energy to keep going will be a major key in how effective and sustainable your journey will be as a law student and as a young attorney. We as minorities are the ones that are aware of our experiences and have the insight to understand what is needed for us to thrive…we live it every single day. Right now we have people making decisions for marginalized communities that don’t understand the struggles and experiences that minorities face because they don’t live it everyday. Ultimately, having minorities in leadership and management positions who can empathize and understand where the gaps are in the system will help speed up the process in creating a more equal playing field in terms of opportunities within the legal field as well as long term sustainable change for laws that disproportionately affect minorities. With all this said, a lot of our work as attorneys is for a cause that is way bigger than ourselves, but the only way to pour into our jobs as professionals and agents of change is to make sure our cup is full…FIRST.
Check out Part II of the Importance of Self Care where we dive into the specifics of how to better care for yourself as a minority in the legal profession.