Editor’s note: The 2021 Dallas Hispanic Law Foundation luncheon is going virtual on Thursday, June 24, 2021. Former Secretary of the Interior and former US Senator Ken Salazar is the keynote speaker. You can learn more at www.dallashispaniclawfoundation.com.
As lawyers, we have all heard an attorney joke. But the lack of Hispanic attorneys in Dallas, Houston, and Texas is no joke.
According to the State Bar of Texas, six percent of the attorneys in Dallas County are Hispanic, compared to 40.8 percent of the county population being Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And Harris County has similar statistics: eight percent of the attorneys are Hispanic, compared to 43.7 percent of the county population being Hispanic. And the statewide numbers are not much better: ten percent of the attorneys in Texas are Hispanic compared to 39.7 percent of the state’s population.
So, while Dallas, Houston, and Texas populations increasingly reflect racial and ethnic diversity, the legal profession does not. The Dallas Hispanic Law Foundation, along with other organizations in Texas, works to address this lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the legal profession. We identify and support programs and initiatives that remove barriers and increase diversity in the pipeline to the legal profession. Some examples include:
Scholarships: U.S. News & World Report reported that the annual average tuition and fees for an in-state resident at a public law school is $29,074. At a private law school, that yearly average amount balloons to $51,268. Too many law students are graduating with staggering debt, or worse, having to work while in school which can negatively impact their studying and grades. And with the annual median household income for Hispanics being around $56,000, financial assistance is critical. The rising cost of tuition and fees should not be a barrier to Hispanics attending and graduating from law school.
Bar Study Grants: The cost of a bar review course in Texas is upwards of $3,000. It is difficult to pass the bar exam without taking a bar prep course prior to the three-day bar exam. And it is also difficult to pass the bar exam without studying for it full time in the months before the bar exam. A study in the Journal of Legal Education concluded that Hispanic law school graduates are at least twice as likely as White graduates to become a never-passer of the bar exam. It does no good if Hispanics graduate from law school but do not pass the bar exam.
Internships: In order to get jobs after graduation, Hispanic law students need meaningful work experience. An internship program helps these law students get practical hands-on legal experience. A judicial internship gives law students the opportunity to research issues, analyze case law and improve their legal writing skills. Plus, judicial interns are mentored by a judge and network with attorneys that may later provide professional opportunities. As a former judicial law clerk myself, I know the value and benefit of this professional and personal experience.
And the good news is that several other organizations offer scholarships and other pipeline resources, including the Hispanic Bar Association of Austin Charitable Foundation, the Hispanic Bar Association of Houston, and MABA San Antonio.
I am proud of the work done by the Dallas Hispanic Law Foundation. On May 20th, we will hold our annual luncheon to award 12 scholarships, 5 bar study grants, and 5 judicial intern stipends. Since 2006 we have awarded more than $400,000 to over 180 law students for scholarships and bar study grants. And since 2013 we have provided $98,000 in stipends to 49 judicial interns in county and state district courts.
The legal profession needs to continue to strive to represent the diversity in Dallas, Houston, and Texas. Diversity in the legal profession (and the judiciary) promotes the public’s confidence and trust in the legal system. It is also important when you consider that lawyers often occupy elected and policymaking positions impacting our communities, such as city councilmembers, state representatives, state senators and congressional representatives.
We thank the many law firms and companies that support us in this mission. As we have learned in the past year, closing this diversity gap requires a broad and sustained effort. If you or your organization want to support the Dallas Hispanic Law Foundation in our efforts to remove barriers and increase diversity, become a sponsor at www.DallasHispanicLawFoundation.com/events.html.
Chris Luna, a Dallas attorney, is a former board member and past president of the Dallas Hispanic Law Foundation. The Dallas Hispanic Law Foundation can be found online at www.dallashispaniclawfoundation.com.