The Future Face of the Bar

November 22, 2009

The face of the Tenth Judicial District Bar is changing with each class of new lawyers. Although I was generally aware of this fact, sitting on stage at Wake County’s recent swearing-in ceremony earlier this fall and looking out at the 100+ newly-admitted attorneys provided striking visual evidence that our Bar is quickly becoming more diversified. The new admittees were about 55% female and 45% male. Equally apparent at the ceremony was a significant diversity among ethnic groups. The new admittees represented a broad range of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Our newest lawyers also are coming here from all over the United States, as was obvious from listening to their many different college and law school Alma Maters.

The diversity among the new admittees reflects the changing demographics in the United States. These demographic trends are expected to continue and increase exponentially in the foreseeable future. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the Hispanic and Asian populations in the United States will triple in the next fifty years. Within that same period, the Asian population is projected to increase by over 200% and the Hispanic population by almost 190%. The African-American population is projected to increase over 70% in that time period.1

As noted above, the legal profession has begun to reflect these demographic trends. According to the 2000 Census, almost 25% of the United States population was non-white. In contrast, fewer than 10% of lawyers nationwide are from racial or ethnic minorities, according to the ABA.2 However, the number of J.D. degrees awarded at ABA-accredited law schools since 2000 has been much more closely aligned with the general population, with over 20% of law graduates being of racial or ethnic minorities.3 Although it will take a while for the legal profession to reflect the demographic percentages in the general population, the trends generally appear headed in the right direction.

Similar statistics and trends exist for women in the legal profession. In 2008, about 32% of lawyers in the United States were women. Women constitute between roughly 25% to 33% of federal judges and judges on state courts of last resort.4 However, women have received almost 50% of the JD degrees from ABA-accredited law schools for at least the last few years.5 Law school enrollment and graduation statistics certainly indicate that the gender balance in the legal profession likely will eventually roughly reflect the general population.

So why does this matter to you as a practicing attorney? In my opinion, there are many positive aspects to the growing ethnic and gender diversity and the changing face of our Bar. It is reflective of the growing diversity of our geographic area in general. Becoming a more diverse Bar and having the opportunity to regularly interact with one another will give us all a broader range of experiences and perspectives. This will allow us to better represent our clients, who also come from increasingly diverse backgrounds and different areas of the country and the world.

I also believe that it is important for us, as an organized Bar, to recognize and continue to be aware of these changing demographic trends and the increasing diversity of the legal profession. It is important that we are and remain relevant to all segments of our members or potential members, including the increasing numbers coming from more diverse backgrounds. This is a similar issue as with the Bar’s changing age demographics and the corresponding generational differences, which I addressed in my first Message this year. In light of the trends in the United States general population and in the legal profession discussed above, I believe this issue is essential to the continued vitality and strength of our Bar organizations.

One important way to remain relevant to is to encourage women and ethnic minorities to seek leadership positions within the Bar. Ideally, our leaders, officers and directors should reflect the changing gender and ethnic demographics of the Bar. As Americans, we are all familiar with what can happen when people do not feel as though they have fair or adequate representation. Although there is little risk of a popular uprising among members of the Bar or a tea party in Lake Crabtree, I believe failure to support representation of all demographic groups may produce reactions far more insidious and common in some professional organizations — disengagement, indifference and disillusionment. These subtler reactions pose a much more realistic threat to an organization of professionals.

Fortunately, I believe that the WCBA and the Tenth generally have done a good job in the past of nominating and electing a diverse group of leaders, including its chairpersons, directors, and officers. It is important that we continue this history. There is always room for improvement in such areas, even in an organization as good as ours.

Unfortunately, the North Carolina State Bar Council has been far less successful in electing councilors that reflect the increasing gender and ethnic diversity of lawyers across the State. In my opinion, this is not due to any fault of the State Bar as an organization. Rather, it results largely from the way councilors must be elected, by statute, through individual district bars. Traditionally, women and lawyers of ethnically diverse backgrounds have been elected primarily from larger districts like ours, Mecklenburg County and a few other metropolitan areas that elect more than one councilor per district.

Currently, the North Carolina State Bar has 66 councilors and officers coming from 43 district bars throughout the State. Of that total, 9 are women, which is approximately 13% of the councilors and officers. Three, or 33%, are from our Tenth District Bar. Obviously, this representation is significantly less than the percentage of women lawyers currently licensed and drastically below the number of women entering and expected to enter the legal profession. President-elect Weyher will be only the second female President of the State Bar. Both have come from our Tenth District Bar.6

Ethnic minorities constitute an even smaller percentage of State Bar councilors. Currently, only 3 of the 66 councilors and officers are minorities, all 3 of whom are African-American. This represents only 4.5% of the total number, fewer than half of the percentage of minority lawyers nationwide currently and far less than the percentage of new minority lawyers joining and expected to join the profession.

Additionally, of those three minority councilors, one is an appointed public member and one of the two lawyers elected is Victor Boone, a Tenth member who is not eligible for reappointment. The other minority councilor is from Mecklenburg County. The State Bar has had two African-American Presidents in the past, one from the Tenth District and the other from Mecklenburg County. 7

It is critical that all members of our Bar feel that they have representation and that we get the benefit of the increasing diversity of the Bar and the corresponding diverse perspectives. Representing attorneys on a regular basis before the State Bar, I hear and see the negative reactions when people do not perceive this to be the case. In my experience, a disturbing number of lawyers in this State do not feel that they can or will get a fair shake when dealing with the State Bar primarily because of the lack of demographic diversity on the Council and related entities. Although I am not at all convinced this is an accurate perception, the perception is almost as important as the reality. Such perceptions lead to disengagement and disillusionment.

President-elect Weyher is looking at ways other states have dealt with this issue, including allowing the President to appoint more councilors. She plans to set up a Committee to explore options for making the State Bar Council more representative of all demographic groups of lawyers. She also is leading an effort to track both gender and ethnicity anonymously for all State Bar members. The State Bar has never tracked that information and cannot provide statistics of demographic information about the lawyers in our State. It is difficult or impossible to strive for proportionate representation without knowing this demographic information. Having been honored to work with President-elect Weyher for many years at the State Bar, I have great confidence in her ability to succeed in these efforts and initiatives.

Notwithstanding the importance of the above issues, nominations and selections for any bar leadership position must be about all of one’s qualifications. Above all else, we must have competent, qualified and committed bar leaders. I am confident we can find them in all the increasingly-diverse demographic segments of our Bar.

As this is my last President’s Message, I want to thank each of you for the privilege of serving as the President-elect and President of the Tenth Judicial District Bar. I was constantly amazed over the past two years at the commitment and efforts of our members and the dedication of our excellent staff. Our modest staff facilitates more activities and supports more committees with fewer personnel than any other bar organization in the country. Having been to bar meetings throughout the country for most of my career, I am confident about this opinion. Both our staff and our members are second to none.

I appreciated the opportunity to serve you as President. I am even more eager and excited to serve you next year as immediate past president. 

1 Embracing the Opportunities for Increasing Diversity into the Legal Profession: Collaborating to Expand the Pipeline, ABA Presidential Advisory Council on Diversity in the Profession (2005) p.10. (citing United States Census Bureau, American Factfinder, People: Race and Ethnicity (2004), available at; and Comm’n on Racial & Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, A.B.A., Statistics About Minorities in the Profession from the Census (2000), available at

2 Goal IX 2007-2008 Report: The Status of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the ABA.

4 A Current Glance at Women in the Law 2008, ABA Commission on Women in the Profession (citing Alliance for Justice Judicial Selection Database: Demographic Overview of the Federal Judiciary, as of 10/8/08; Judicial Selection and Retention Membership on State Courts of Last Resort, by Sex. July, 2008, National Center for State Courts.

5 Id. (citing American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, available at

6 Tenth and WCBA member, M. Ann Reed, was the first female North Carolina State Bar President in 2000-2001.

7 The Honorable Cressie H. Thigpen, Jr., Special Superior Court Judge and a Tenth and WCBA member, was President of the North Carolina State Bar in 1999-2000. The Honorable Calvin E. Murphy, Special Superior Court Judge, was the only other African-American State Bar President in 2006-2007.