A report released in 2010 by the American Bar Association claims that fewer than seven percent of partners and fewer than 20 percent of associates in law firms across the country are people of color.
“When people see the numbers, they are surprised,” says Lawrencina Mason Oramalu, an assistant dean and multicultural affairs director at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. “Those numbers are just about attorneys in firms. There are a lot of attorneys of color who choose not to work for a firm. They instead have a solo practice or may work for the government, a state agency, or in higher education like me. We aren’t included in those numbers.”
Oramalu graduated in 2005 from Mitchell and suspects that debt is a major reason why Blacks are not entering law schools. “I know that’s one of the things we are experiencing this year, because applications are down. It’s pretty expensive. Students are having second thoughts — is it worth the investment to go to law school? And of course my response is [that] it is an investment in yourself.”
The second reason Oramalu believes contributes to the low numbers is that of time. Classes for full-time students are held five days per week, totaling close to 14 hours per week in the classroom. “If you are on the full-time track you definitely are doing it in three [years], but if you take some summer classes, some people are able to finish in two and a half. But if you are part-time, your credits fluctuate depending on what you can manage when you are working and going to school.”
The third factor, according to Oramalu, is that working as an attorney requires a lot of hard work and dedication. “There are going to be challenges, but we have to instill in our young people that they can do it. A law degree opens up lots of different doors.”
The student body at William Mitchell is comprised of 16 percent of people of color and it offers programs that are aimed at recruiting more Blacks to the legal industry. There is a summer program that lasts for two weeks called the Future in Learning Law (FILL) for students from Twin Cities high schools. “During the program they learn about legal research, visit the courthouse, and participate in a mock trial,” Oramalu said. “We try to emphasize different skills — how to evaluate the facts of a case, how to analyze the case, and oral and writing communication skills.”
Another program, created in 1990, is the Summer Partnership in Law (SPIL), provides students with the chance to take law classes twice per week. The program also introduces students to legal resources as well as exam skills necessary to enter law school. The office of Oramalu also hosts students during campus visits. “We need to go to the students, to the schools. We are trying to build relationships not only with high-school students, but also reach further back and work with middle-school students as well.”