A Diverse Legal Profession: Still A Fantasy?
By Akshata Modi
Runner Up of Diversity Essay Scholarship
Gazing through mankind’s timeline, we get a glimpse into the creation of constructs like gender, caste, and religion; constructs which quite evidently dictate almost all aspects of our lives today. Through a gradual process, society has fostered discrimination on the basis of these constructs, and has sadly normalized the process to us.
Over the years, every power structure in our society was given a hierarchy and attached to that were ideas about each position in the hierarchy. These ideas and notions about each position grew more and more rigid. Increased generalization and rigidity molded our society into one dominated by stereotypes. These stereotypes have conceivably snatched opportunities, directly or indirectly, from certain sections of the society, and hence made many professions non-diverse.
Law being one of the least diverse professions in the country calls for active steps and measures to be taken. Having a diverse legal professional class creates a more holistic representation of society and adds credibility to the country’s legal institutions. The legal industry can speak in a more articulate and a better informed way only if it is reflective of the country’s demographics. The culmination of people from different and diverse backgrounds makes for a broader and more inclusive perspective. The legal fraternity should “look” like this country in order to represent this country.
A prerequisite to having a more just legal system is an increased sensitivity and understanding when dealing with potential discriminatory factors like gender, caste, wealth status, or religion. Thus, it could be argued that – the industry essentially looks for people who are sensitive to aforementioned factors and not just a more diverse group of people. However, it is quite evident that people coming from different backgrounds would naturally steer clear of unconscious bias. So in essence, a more diverse community of legal professional class will in fact fulfill the requirement of an inherently unbiased workforce which will model a fairer and a more just legal system.
Coming to gender and the role it plays in law, the legal industry is undoubtedly male dominated, probably owing to how people perceive the legal profession itself. To many, the prevailing stereotype about having to become a lawyer is to be competitive, aggressive and sometimes overly harsh (most of it owing to media content blurring people’s opinion). These traits are what most people associate with masculinity. Ergo, it is subconsciously presumed by most that the legal profession is for the men to conquer. This has led to women being further carried away from a career in law.
Along with gender disparity, casteism has also found its own place in the legal fraternity. The origin of the caste system is very complex, but the impact it has had and still has is very prominent. When talked about diversity in the legal industry, casteism is deeply neglected even after the legal profession being riddled with caste bias. Casteism has to be acknowledged and tackled with in order to create a more diverse and accepting environment in the industry.
There are other factors besides gender and caste, like wealth status, regional identity, and sexual orientation which draw biasness, hindering people’s success as legal professionals.
Why is it that the Indian Justice System is itself not just towards its representatives? Why haven’t we had a woman Chief Justice of India, even after 70 years since the appointment of the first Chief Justice? Why are there only three woman Supreme Court judges out of a total thirty-two? Why is it that only 1.6% students of the top five NLUs come from a Muslim family, despite Muslims making up 12% of India’s population? Why are women and minorities not given leadership roles in law firms?
There are various obstacles preventing women, and minority castes and communities to enter, and more importantly to succeed in the legal profession. Understanding these structural impediments causing disparity is the first step in leveling the playing field. Having discussions and essentially just talking about the issue is the way to get people to stop trivializing it. Legal professionals need to recognize that there IS an unconscious bias clouding their judgment in one way or the other and they need to take active steps to further sensitize themselves. People in leadership positions should be more sensitive and open-minded, so as to engrain similar values into incoming lawyers. Given the dismal diversity of the Indian Supreme Court, just a recognition by the Supreme Court about its need to represent society is long overdue, let alone formulating a policy towards achieving diversity.
Diversity can only be achieved when we bring in individual as well as institutionalized changes. These changes come down to our everyday discussions which are tainted with biases. In institutions, lack of accountability may also be a reason for discriminatory behavior and actions, so precise policies are required to minimize such conduct. Companies should also formulate in-house policies specifically catering to minority castes and communities; all employees should be given diversity training to avoid any potential discriminatory behavior. A lot also depends on the environment created in firms or chambers for incoming junior legal professionals; an unbiased space devoid of discrimination is not only more innovative and safe, it would also cater to the issues faced by women and other minorities of the legal industry.
Increasing diversity in the legal profession by increasing diversity in law schools is not enough, because law school graduation is just where the journey begins; it is when a minority successfully establishes stability and growth without having to face discrimination on the way, that we will start making progress. This does not in any way mean that we have to patronize women and minorities, but it also does not mean that recruitment and selection processes are to be completely based on meritocracy. There needs to be a balance, since what we are aiming to achieve is not equality, but equity.
Isn’t it obvious that the legal profession and the judiciary of a country should represent the country’s constitution? Well, the current status of our country does not really exemplify that statement. The legal industry is expected to be the guardian of the rule of law; it is supposed to uphold the constitution, the constitution which promises impartiality and inclusivity. But the existing prejudice and stereotypes in our country don’t allow such inclusivity to foster. So let us all combine our efforts and not let our future generations face the prejudice we face today in the legal profession, let us leave them a more diverse and a more just legal fraternity.