Diversity, Hierarchy, and Fit in Legal Careers: Insights from Fifteen Years of Qualitative Interviews

87 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2017 Last revised: 11 Oct 2017

See all articles by Bryant Garth

Bryant Garth

University of California, Irvine School of Law; American Bar Foundation

Joyce S. Sterling

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Date Written: October 2, 2017

Abstract

This limited openness and the processes of professional continuity and change are the topics of this article, which begins with a provocative photograph of “diverse” “elite lawyers” on the golf course. It is the first article based on the three waves of qualitative interviews of the After the J.D. longitudinal study of lawyer careers. These interviews took place over a fifteen-year period. The total number was 219 interviews, and the vast majority of them were conducted personally by the authors of this article. Twenty of the individuals were interviewed twice and twenty-seven three times. Our qualitative interviews are unique in allowing us to see changing attitudes and situations over the course of more than ten years. This article uses this unique resource to examine the evolving role of race, gender and ethnicity in lawyer careers. The article addresses theoretical perspectives on the role of race, gender and ethnicity in legal careers, contrasting our “capital assets” approach with a variety of other legal and sociological approaches and presents the qualitative interviews beginning with the elite track of large law firms, followed by similar issues in medium size firms; variations of Big Law careers – of counsel and in house in particular--; concluding with examples of how people build “off-Broadway” careers that draw upon diversity and find ways to capitalize on it. The concluding part draws the qualitative interviews together in a general conclusion, demonstrating how the capital asset approach is enacted in the interviews through the concept of “fit.” Fit is a way for embedded histories and power relationships to make it more difficult for minorities, women, and people who do not possess the cultural capital represented by golf, for example, to succeed in particular settings – including the corporate law firm.

Keywords: legal profession, diversity, qualitative research, lawyer careers, identity

Suggested Citation

Garth, Bryant and Sterling, Joyce S., Diversity, Hierarchy, and Fit in Legal Careers: Insights from Fifteen Years of Qualitative Interviews (October 2, 2017). Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, Forthcoming; U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper No. 17-35; UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2017-43. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3046851

Bryant Garth (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )

401 E. Peltason Dr.
Ste. 1000
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States
949-824-7230 (Phone)
949-824-0495 (Fax)

American Bar Foundation ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-988-6575 (Phone)
312-988-6579 (Fax)

Joyce S. Sterling

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States
303-871-6309 (Phone)
303-871-6378 (Fax)

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