Supreme Judicial Court building

Racial inequity crisis in the legal profession

There’s a racial inequity crisis in the Massachusetts legal profession, and despite years of studying the problems, Massachusetts lawyers have made little progress in creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces. That’s according to Sheriece M. Perry, co-director of the Department of Support Services in the Office of Court Management of the Massachusetts Trial Court, who wrote about the challenges attorneys of color face in Massachusetts legal organizations and courtrooms.

“It is 2021, and it is baffling to me that so little has changed since I was a teenager on the mock trial team in the 1990s, thinking about becoming a lawyer,” wrote Perry, who is a member of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission. “Although I am grateful for the many steps forward, twenty-one years since I embarked on a journey to be the change I wished to see, I still have feelings of hopelessness when I think about equity and the legal profession.”

Her article, “’Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’ – Catchy Slogans and Buzzwords with Little Proof that they Matter to the Legal Profession in Massachusetts!”, was part of a special issue of the Boston College Law Review in honor of Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, who died in 2020, and had worked for many years to combat inequity in the courts and the legal profession.

A February 2021 report by the SJC’s Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being details how attorneys from underrepresented groups still have strikingly different experiences than their white heterosexual colleagues. “I believe the Town Hall Report also provides experiential documentation that the Massachusetts legal profession is still light years away from creating equity in this profession,” Perry said. “It also raises the question of how much diversity, equity, and inclusion really matters to the Massachusetts legal community.”

She writes that to create equity in the legal profession, organizations “have to care and be committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion as a culture change.” To begin to address inequities, Perry says, employers have to take inventory of practices that inhibit diversity. They also have to take active steps to address implicit bias in the workforce.

Perry concludes, “As members of the bar, who have been trained to call one another ‘sister’ and ‘brother’ [we] must think hard about what our responsibilities are to this profession, to one another, and to the legal system as a whole. We must be a people of action and we must forge ahead in the very way that Chief Justice Gants blazed the trail for us to follow in his footsteps.”

Read more of Perry’s essay in the Boston College Law Review.

Read all the Essays in Honor of Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants.