Lawyers Journal

The face of the legal profession

If you had to put a face on the Massachusetts Bar Association today, what would it look like? Would the face be male? Female? White? A person of color? Would there be other obvious or less obvious attributes you would include?

Try it for a minute and see what you come up with.

Now, put a face on the bar, as you would like it to look. Is it the same, or is it different from the first? Most likely, it's different and if it is, why?

The point of this exercise is for each of us to ask ourselves what we believe the MBA looks like now and how, if we could, we would like the MBA to be viewed. Ideally, a statewide bar organization should reflect the best our profession has to offer, a multi-faceted personality reflecting a diverse and complex constituency of all races, colors and specialty practices. While we might try very hard to achieve such a diverse and inclusive "face," we have a long way to go. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying.

A while ago, I had the good fortune to participate in an MBA and ABA-sponsored program at Hampshire College called "Increasing Diversity in the Legal Profession." I always find that talking to young adults about the law and about choosing the law as a profession is as much a learning experience as it is a teaching experience. For me, learning happens best when you listen, and you should listen twice as much as you talk. That's why you have two ears and only one mouth.

Young adults often have a curiously bad opinion of lawyers and the legal profession. It's astonishing how negatively our profession is viewed by many college-age, young adults, some of whom will be law school candidates themselves. Listening, it made me think about how each of them would describe the face of our profession and, of necessity, that of the MBA. Their negative perceptions would undoubtedly influence the face they would put on our profession.

But you know what? You can't just dismiss this point of view. We need to listen to these perceptions because we need to find a way to deal with them. This doesn't mean getting angry or offended because someone has an unreasonably negative view of lawyers; we have no right to adopt an offended or thin-skinned reaction. What we should do with such criticism, however ill founded or irrational, is to find out its sources and causes, and begin to educate our young adults about why this negativity is a misconception of our profession.

Young adults do listen, if you just take the time to talk to them about our profession and the positive things we offer to society. We need to do this. An angry, knee-jerk reaction to negative perceptions only causes a reinforcement of those perceptions. So, if we want to make a difference, if we really want to change the face of our profession and the MBA, we all need to take the time to educate young adults about our profession and what we do. It's the only way the face of our profession will evolve into what we want it to be, and what it should be.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association