69 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2021 Last revised: 1 Jun 2022
Date Written: April 5, 2022
Racial allies are White individuals and institutions who actively work to dismantle systems of racial inequality and the consequences of poverty that disproportionately impact communities of color and are willing to both confer and share power with members of subjugated groups. There is no other sector of the legal profession that professes to be racial allies more than the public interest law sector. Yet, these institutions that address structural racism and disproportionately serve communities of color appear not to share power with racial and ethnic minorities.
The public interest law sector has been at the forefront of economic and racial justice both historically and in modern times, including as abolitionist lawyers, civil rights lawyers, lawyers challenging economic inequality, the eviction crisis, and immigration. Probably because of their perceived roles as racial allies, there has been scholarly and practitioner neglect to examine their allyship.
In this Article, I make a number of groundbreaking contributions to the literature. First, I conduct the first systemic investigation of race and ethnicity with the largest dataset of the individuals and groups with relative power in the public interest law sector—CEOs, boards of directors, and large firm pro bono partners and counsels. The novel dataset contains 650 institutions and over 10,000 individuals. I also interviewed a subset of CEOs and board members. With these data, I show—for the first time—the lack of racial and ethnic diversity among the CEOs of PILOs, PILO boards of directors, and pro bono partners and counsels who lead the public interest sector. Second, although there may be other reasons, I highlight five possible explanations for the problem. Third, I suggest potential policy responses for each of the identified theories. I also advance reasons why racial diversity in public interest law is important and highlight areas for further research on diversity in the sector.
Keywords: racial diversity, public interest law, legal profession
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