Skip to Content

The last 25 years have clearly been a watershed moment in terms of diversifying the legal profession in Maryland.

As demonstrated throughout this book, the bench and bar have seen numerous “firsts” in terms of placing women and people of color on the bench and in positions of power. Maryland’s highest court had its first Black Chief Justice, Robert Bell, followed by its first female Chief Justice, Mary Ellen Barbera. But there is still work to be done. The American Bar Association’s Profile of the Legal Profession 2020 demonstrates the continued opportunities for strides in diversity:

• Lawyers of color continued to make small gains among law firm partners in 2019. A decade ago, in 2009, 6% of law firm partners were Hispanic, African American, Asian, Native American or mixed race. In 2019, nearly 10% were.

• The number of law firm associates who are lawyers of color is also rising slowly. In 2009, nearly 20% of all associates were lawyers of color. In 2019, the number was 25%. Over the past decade, the percentage of law firm partners who are openly LGBT has increased. In 2009, 1.4% of all law firm partners were LGBT. Today, the figure is 2.1%. 

• Nearly all people of color are underrepresented in the legal profession compared with their presence in the U.S. population. For example, 5% of all lawyers are African American—the same percentage as 10 years earlier— but the U.S. population is 13.4% African American.

Large corporations are making an effort to require diversity among the firms who work for them. In January 2021, for example, Coca Cola announced that it would require at least 30% of billed lawyers for its outside counsel to be from diverse backgrounds.

As former Chair of the MSBA Diversity & Inclusion Committee Yolanda Sonnier stated, “When we talk about diversity, it’s not just your hiring. . . . It’s also how you relate to your clients, how you are serving your clients, how you respond to people in the classroom . . . diversity falls on so many levels.”

MSBA President M. Natalie McSherry (2021–2022) emphasized that we are not finished creating a judicial system and profession that offers the same opportunities to everyone. Referring to the Constitution adopted at the MSBA’s founding meeting, McSherry stated, “Although the principles expressed in our Constitution remain the same, our evolution toward realizing those principles by embracing the full diversity of our society has made achieving positive change more possible, more just and more impactful. The MSBA has come to represent more closely all segments of the Maryland Bar and of Maryland. This will always be a work in progress and more work needs to be done. That too is part of our story.”