What You Need to Know About the 2023 WSBA Demographic Study

When the last WSBA Demographic Study was conducted, there were about 30 million fewer people in the United States than today. At that time in 2012, “Gangnam Style” was one of the most popular internet sensations, Nelson Mandela and Robin Williams were both still alive, same-sex marriage was illegal, the many civil uprisings of 2020 were years away, and very few people had even heard of the coronavirus.

Now a decade later, to keep pace with so much change, the WSBA is fulfilling its commitment to conduct another comprehensive demographic study. In 2022, the WSBA kicked off the process to survey Washington legal professionals and develop the 2023 WSBA Demographic Study. The study will be conducted in two phases: a survey sent to all members followed by focus groups to dive deeper into member demographic data and the experience practicing law in Washington.

Though it’s been a while since the last study, this effort traces its roots back even further. The WSBA formally established diversity as one of its strategic goals in 2003, in 2006 the Board of Governors formed the Diversity Committee (now called the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council), and in 2007 the WSBA adopted as one of its guiding principles the advancement and promotion of “diversity, equality, and cultural understanding throughout the legal community.” The 2012 membership study became the bedrock of the WSBA’s first Diversity and Inclusion Plan, which was followed by the 2014 Diversity, Intersectionality & WSBA Membership Study.

According to the June 2013 issue of NWLaywer (now Washington State Bar News), the diversity plan “would be the foundation of the bar’s ongoing comprehensive diversity efforts aimed at member- and public-focused programs” and “the direct descendant of WSBA diversity efforts that began in 2003, when the bar officially established diversity as one of its nine strategic goals.”

In October 2013, former WSBA executive director, the late-Paula Littlewood, wrote in NWLawyer: “The WSBA will promote equitable conditions for members from historically underrepresented backgrounds to enter, stay, and thrive in the profession. From the membership study conducted in 2012, we have learned about the barriers and disparities that impact members from historically underrepresented backgrounds.”

Data collected in this latest iteration of the study will not only create a clearer picture of the people who comprise Washington’s legal community, but will also provide tools to address problems as they arise over the next 10 years and beyond. For instance, the 2012 study was initiated, in part, “[to] gain an accurate picture of the profession’s composition [as well as to] understand the reasons why attorneys leave the profession.”

The 2023 Member Demographic Study will be used to inform how to improve the legal profession in Washington, including how to better support underrepresented and historically marginalized legal professionals. At the February meeting of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council DEI Plan workgroup, WSBA President-Elect Sunitha Anjilvel stated that DEI work is an organization-wide effort, and the new study will not be used simply to update the existing plan but to create a plan from a modern perspective, given the many things that have changed in the past decade.

The WSBA is currently working with Kno-Why, an Oregon-based consultant specializing in DEI, to help design and conduct the study. The survey and focus groups will help amass demographic data about WSBA members, and go even further by asking targeted questions of members to learn more about the many layers that comprise legal professionals who practice in Washington. The end goal is to capture quantitative, statistical data as well as qualitative data about the experience of being a legal professional, the microaggressions many lawyers experience, and other pertinent information. Based on the information that’s gathered, the DEI Council will develop a draft DEI plan, which will go to the Board of Governors for approval and adoption.

To learn more about the future and history of the WSBA Demographic Study and the Diversity and Inclusion Plan, check out our Diversity Plan and Data page.