public interest law sector; law; racial allies; inequality;


Racial allies are white individuals and institutions that actively work to dismantle systems of racial inequality and the consequences of poverty that disproportionately impact communities of color and that are willing to both confer and share power with members of subjugated groups. There is no other sector of the legal profession that professes to be racial allies more than individuals and institutions within the public interest law sector. Yet, these institutions that address structural racism and disproportionately serve communities of color appear not to share power with racial and ethnic minorities. The public interest law sector has been at the forefront of economic and racial justice both historically and in modern times, including as abolitionist lawyers, civil rights lawyers, and lawyers challenging economic inequality, the eviction crisis, and immigration. Probably because of their perceived roles as racial allies, there has been scholarly and practitioner neglect to examine their allyship. In this Article, I make a number of groundbreaking contributions to the literature. First, I conduct the first systemic investigation of race and ethnicity using the largest dataset of the individuals and groups with relative power in the public interest law sector—CEOs, boards of directors, and large-firm pro bono partners and counsel. The novel dataset contains 650 institutions and over 10,000 individuals. I also interviewed a subset of CEOs and board members. With these data, I show—for the first time—the lack of racial and ethnic diversity among the CEOs of public interest legal organizations (PILOs), PILO boards of directors, and pro bono partners and counsel who lead the public interest sector. Second, although there may be other reasons, I highlight five possible explanations for the problem. Third, I suggest potential policy responses for each of the identified theories. I also advance reasons why racial diversity in public interest law is important and highlight areas for further research on diversity in the sector.