The Pipeline to Diversity Starts in Preschool

Originally published in the November/December issue of the Hennepin Lawyer. Used with permission.

While "Leaders of the legal profession have listed increased diversity among lawyers and judges as a high priority, … diversity by and large remains a goal and not an accomplishment."1 Maybe the profession needs to start earlier in recruiting lawyers of color.  Much earlier.

According to the American Bar Association Pipeline Council, the pipeline to diversity encompasses not just college (two-year and four-year), and law school (including the bar exam) but early childhood education (Pre-K to 12).2

You read that correctly. The pipeline to diversity amongst lawyers includes preschool. Art Rolnick, now a senior fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and formerly vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis, says "All-day kindergarten starts way too late." As an advocate on this issue, he emphasizes that "80 to 90 percent of the brain is developed by age five.3

Who has access to high-quality preschool in the city of Minneapolis? Generally it is not those living in poverty or who are low-income. And what race or ethnicity are those who are poor? A disproportionate number are non-white.

The statistics on kindergarten readiness in Minneapolis Public Schools are eye-opening. While 91% of white students are ready to enter kindergarten, only 70% of black students are ready, 68% of Asian students, and 57% of American Indian students. The most disheartening figure is that only 41% of Hispanic students are kindergarten-ready. When one considers households in which Spanish is the primary or only language spoken, only 36% of children are ready for kindergarten.4

Sarah Redfield, the author of an ABA white paper, wrote, "To put it bluntly, students who cannot read well will not do well in the education system and will not be likely candidates for law school."5 In other words, by kindergarten, a very large number of kids are already outside the pipeline and may never be able to move into the pipeline.

According to the ABA Pipeline Council, "We need to focus on the documented gaps in educational opportunity and achievement that separate low income students and students of color from others."6 The numbers make it clear that the gaps arise in those pre-K years, when the significant brain development occurs.

Consistent with Rolnick’s economic research7 the ABA’s Pipeline Council notes: "Investment in early childhood development for disadvantaged children provides a high return to society through increased personal achievement and social productivity."8 Those disadvantaged children who receive the benefit of such investment are the additional students that are needed in the pipeline that will increase the potential number of diverse lawyers.

 One ABA Pipeline Council member urges lawyers to "use the powerful voice of the legal profession to make clear that real change in the diversity of the profession depends on the future educational outcomes of today’s first graders," or, in my view, preschoolers.9

There are two key facts that make the Minneapolis kindergarten readiness figures for Hispanic children (36-41%) especially concerning. First, in comparison to whites and other minority groups, Hispanics are further "behind" in trying to reach a level of Hispanic lawyers proportionate to the percentage of Hispanics in the general population: Whites are 88.1% of lawyers to 56.1% of the population; Asians are 3.4% to 4.8%; blacks are 4.8% to 12.6%; and Hispanics are 3.7% of lawyers yet 16.3% of the population.10

Second, the Hispanic population will double in size between 2014 and 2060, growing from nearly 17 to 29 percent of the U.S. population.11

Hispanic attorneys make up an especially small percentage of lawyers right now. Hispanic children as a whole are grossly unprepared to enter school; therefore too few are in the pipeline to become lawyers. With these statistics, it is unlikely the percentage of Hispanic lawyers will improve; it will probably decrease. But lawyers can do something about it by putting their pipeline funds into preschool programs that serve the disadvantaged.

This is what I do every Veterans Day when I gather other lawyers to raise money for preschool scholarships at Joyce Preschool. With supporters like the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association, Twin Cities Diversity in Practice, and others, we hold a Barristers’ Breakfast to support Joyce Preschool’s mission of a two-way (Spanish-English) immersion program that successfully prepares children for kindergarten.

The Barristers’ Breakfast is one of several fundraising efforts to raise money for preschool scholarships. The majority of the scholarships go to low-income, native Spanish-speaking students. For several years now, 100 percent of Joyce Preschool graduates have been evaluated as kindergarten-ready. This means that even those native Spanish-speaking children who entered the program have graduated ready to enter an English-only Minneapolis public school.

1 Sarah Redfield, "The Education Pipeline to the Legal Profession – A Primer and Guide,"
2 American Bar Association Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Education Pipeline, "Achieving Diversity in the Legal Profession through the Educational Pipeline," PowerPoint slide 4,,_40_52_58.authcheckdam.pdf.
3 Art Rolnick, "Making the case for early childhood education," MPR, Dec. 10, 2014,
4 One Minneapolis Report, 2013 (based on 2012 data),
5 Redfield, supra note 1.
6 ABA Pipeline Council, supra note 2.
7 See Arthur J. Rolnick & Rob Grunewald, "Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return," fedgazette, March 1, 2003,
8 ABA Pipeline Council, supra note 2.
9. Redfield, supra note 1.
10 ABA PowerPoint, Slide 17, supra note 2.
11 Sandra L. Colby & Jennifer M. Ortman, "Projections of the Size and Composition of the U.S. Population: 2014 to 2060," (March 2015), Table 2 at 9,


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