Updated Options in a New WSBA Demographic
Form Will Better Reflect and Serve Members
By Robin Nussbaum, Ph.D.
IN A FEW MONTHS, LEGAL PROFESSIONALS practicing in Washington state will have the opportunity to fill out a set of newly designed, confidential demographic questions along with their WSBA license renewals. The updated language is the result of a multiyear collaboration with many groups; we hope members will see themselves more
accurately reflected in the options and, equally important, we
hope every member will fill out the form (online, on paper, or
via an assistant). This is the only statewide data available to
help WSBA and other organizations understand and respond
to diversity and inclusion efforts in the profession and to build
programs, resources, and structures to support members.
BACKGROUND AND RATIONALE
The WSBA began collecting demographic data from the
membership in 2005. The questions and their careful
wording were developed through a collaboration between
the WSBA and minority bar association (MBA) leaders.
Initially, members would receive and fill out this voluntary,
confidential demographic survey only when they received
their first licensing packet—there was no convenient way for
members to update their information or to offer it at a later
date. And over time, fewer and fewer members voluntarily
reported this information.
Thus, we started to look for ways to make demographic
reporting more accessible. The first step was to include the
four confidential demographic questions—race, gender,
sexual orientation, and disability status—on the 2017
relicensing form for all members, not just new members. The
response was dramatic, with several thousand more members
voluntarily answering the demographics questions. As a
result, we now know the gender and race of almost three-quarters of the membership.
But the mere addition of these questions to the
We had several goals in mind as we revised the questions:
relicensing process was not sufficient to address societal
changes over the last decade that have affected the language
and norms for describing various identities. Our questions
needed a refresh, and for the past two years we have been
carefully revising and updating them. We reached out to all
WSBA members, MBA leadership, and other stakeholders to
ask for input, information, and recommendations about what
language and categories to include. We also researched best
practices and methods of collection used by institutions like the
American Bar Association (ABA) and the U.S. Census Bureau.
1. Obtain reliable, useable, analyzable data.
2. Create questions that mirror our modern-day
understanding of identity.
3. Create an inclusive experience for those voluntarily
providing their demographic information.
We then put those revised questions out to our
membership for feedback, and we made several more rounds
of revisions based on the more than 60 thoughtful and helpful
responses we received.
Why is gathering this demographic information important
in the first place? The WSBA operates under the delegated
authority of the Washington Supreme Court, and the
Court has made it a priority that the WSBA act to advance
diversity, inclusion, and equity in the legal profession. To
accomplish this mission, we need to understand the lay of the
land: How diverse is our membership? What do we know about
the opportunities and challenges of legal professionals from
different backgrounds? Are more people from underrepresented
groups entering and staying in the profession?