The Daily Work of Fitting in as a Marginalized Lawyer

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Critical Perspectives, Lawyers, Feminist Theory, Marginalization, Legal Workplaces, Strategies, Inclusive Work Environments, Institutional Bias


Despite increased public dialogue about the need for inclusion, marginalized lawyers adjust their behavior to “fit” in their legal workplaces. In this article, the author presents the results of interviews with lawyers in Canada who self-identify as belonging to a marginalized group based on race, ethnicity, Indigeneity, gender or sexual identity, working-class background, and/or disability. Based on these interviews, the author advances a taxonomy of the five strategies employed by these lawyers to fit in to their workplaces: covering strategies, compensating strategies, mythologizing strategies, passing strategies, and exiting strategies.

Marginalized lawyers employ covering strategies, which may be appearance, affiliation, advocacy, or association-based, to hide or minimize characteristics that may distinguish the individual from the dominant group. Compensating strategies include the individual’s efforts to work harder, obtain more credentials, maximize their social capital, be perfect, and take on extra diversity work. Each of these techniques is designed to “make-up” for the perceived failure of being a marginalized lawyer. Mythologizing strategies involve creating internal narratives to reduce the effects of discrimination. Marginalized lawyers use passing strategies to censor various aspects of themselves in an attempt to be perceived as a part of the dominant group. Finally, exiting strategies are a last resort; the marginalized lawyer leaves their workplace or limits their legal work to specific firms or areas of law.

The author argues that developing a taxonomy of strategies facilitates understanding about how law firms and lawyers may strategize to create more inclusive work environments. The author also clarifies the extent to which we require some marginalized lawyers to adjust aspects of who they are so that they can survive in their workplaces.