Improving the diversity and inclusion of the legal field is a good thing to do, but Lisa Sonia Taylor wants law leaders to understand it’s also essential to ensure the success of the legal profession.
As the world becomes more diverse and fluid, the legal field needs to reflect that diversity in order to meet the community’s needs and to garner trust from the community it represents, said Taylor, who for the past seven years has served as director of the Office of Inclusion and Diversity Education at Saint Louis University School of Law.
“We’re in an era where our society and our communities are becoming more and more diverse,” she said. “People are having very complex legal needs, and it’s important for the legal field to be able to be responsive to a diverse community, to be able to serve a diverse community and to garner trust from a diverse community. The only way we can do that is to have a diverse profession.”
Taylor was born in Toronto but moved to her parents’ native Trinidad as an infant. She returned north to earn an undergraduate degree in political science and history from the University of Toronto. With a university professor for a father and a teacher for a mother, she swore up and down she wouldn’t work in education, and she started law school at Howard University, expecting to work with companies to improve their nondiscrimination and equal-opportunity policies.
Instead, after working for a few years in labor law, she found herself in education, making her way in 2011 to SLU, where she headed the law school’s Office of Inclusion and Diversity Education until this month.
At SLU, Taylor received a grant from the Law School Admissions Council to start a pipeline program, known as DiscoverLaw.org Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars, or PLUS. PLUS brings together undergraduate students from groups traditionally underrepresented in the legal field for a four-week program to introduce them to the profession and the rigors and expectations of law schools. Data has shown that PLUS participants are more likely to improve their GPAs after attending and tend to get admitted to more law schools than peers who did not attend such a program. Only a few students attending SLU’s PLUS program have graduated so far, but early feedback indicates that the program has been instrumental in their pre-law success.
It also is vital for law schools to start looking for potential students at community colleges, which are an underused resource for talented students of diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, Taylor said.
“It’s so important for students to start think about post-graduate careers early on,” Taylor said.
“When students don’t have prelaw advising at their institution, they start doing things too late in the cycle, and that comes with certain disadvantages when they do apply to law school.”
Taylor is moving to the Washington, D.C. area, but she said she plans to remain involved in diversity and inclusion programs with SLU. She also wants to help build networks of diversity and inclusion professionals who work in similar settings in order to strengthen the burgeoning field.
“We’re seeing more and more people like me that their sole role is diversity and inclusion, so I think it’s an important time for diversity professionals to get a broader understanding of what we can do and have some kind of support organization as well,” she said.