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Promoting Diversity in Appellate Practice | Juvaria Khan

TALP 54 | Diversity In Appellate Practice

The law in general and appellate practice, in particular, suffer from a lack of diversity. The traditional barriers to both law and appellate practice have left many students of color and first-generation law students lacking opportunities and access to the profession. Luckily, organizations like The Appellate Project recognize this problem and seek to change it. Todd Smith and Jody Sanders sit down with Juvaria Khan to discuss her creation of The Appellate Project, which seeks to provide more students and lawyers access to appellate practice. Juvaria shares her personal experiences as a Muslim woman and daughter of immigrants and explains how they helped her decide to change the system. She provides practical tips that allow every level of the system to increase accessibility and mentoring. She also highlights the things missing from a non-diverse practice—from differing perspectives to more fair and just decisions. Join Juvaria, Todd, and Jody in this important conversation where they dive deep into the mission of The Appellate Project and more.

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Promoting Diversity in Appellate Practice | Juvaria Khan 

Our guest is Juvaria Khan, who’s the founder of The Appellate ProjectWe’re going to talk a lot more about what The Appellate Project does. A few of our readers that I know personally are involved in The Appellate Project as mentors. I’m hoping that a lot more of our readers will get involved. Hopefully, you’ll find out some ways that you can get involved with that. Welcome to the showThank you for joining us. 

Thank you so much for having me.  

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, who you are and how you got to be doing what you’re doing? 

I’m a lawyer by background. I grew up not knowing any lawyers but got interested in the law as a kid during 9/11 and experiencing a lot of the pushback in our Muslim community after that happened. I was getting curious about who was creating these laws, whether they had met anyone from my community. That led to a broader interest in learning about civil rights and how marginalized communities have used the courts throughout history to build a foundation of many of the rights that I do have. I followed that interest into law school knowing I wanted to do work in that space but unsure how to get there. A lot of law school was being uncertain about how to get from A to B. I did eventually end up doing what I wanted to do, which was impact litigation. It was while doing that work that I got my first meaningful exposure to appellate work. Jumping ahead, that’s what led to the creation of The Appellate Project. 

We are all missing out on those students when we don't expand where we're recruiting from. Click To Tweet

We’ve talked on this show before with a lot of guests. One thing that we all acknowledge and agree on is the law in general and appellate practice in particular suffers from a lack of diversity. It’s something that I know has improved over the years and people are making conscious efforts. In appellate practice, it’s still a problem that needs to continue to be addressed aggressively. Is that something that you saw from your personal experiences? Also, did you recognize it from talking to other people?  

Both of those. From my own experience, I went through law school not knowing anything about appellate work or what it was. I certainly never thought of it as a career option. It wasn’t until years into practice that I had that understanding. That means that I missed out on all the steps you should take to position yourself early on for those opportunities. That’s certainly not unique to me. I share my story as an example. I did well in law school but didn’t know about clerkships until a year after graduating.  

I went to a networking event and an attorney came up to me, and we started talking. He asked me what law school I went to, what my grades were, and his next question was, Why didn’t you clerk? My immediate response was, “It’s not for people like me.” He said, “What do you mean by that? I immediately had this picture of law school and the students who always knew how to navigate those spaces. They came in with the networks and the knowledge. They would have the conversations like, I’ll go work at so-and-so firm because that’s where my dad works. So-and-so in my family network is a judge. I can go there.  

Clerking felt like one more of those mysterious obstacles that I didn’t know how to navigate. All of the students I was thinking of were all white and I didn’t see anyone like me doing that. I shared that with him, and he kindly walked me through the importance of a clerkship and what it meant for my career. He asked me what I wanted to do and told me how much it would help to have a clerkship to do that work. That made all the difference. I give that as one example.  

Being a stepping stone for appellate work, appellate clerkships are a key part of that too. When they’re messaged in law school, especially to students of color, it’s often, “Those are hard to get. Don’t even bother applying. A lot of students self-select out if they don’t have that type of encouragement. The appellate work, taking a step back, you don’t know what you don’t know. In the first instance, it’s important to communicate to students that appellate work is an opportunity and explaining clearly what the steps are. If it is messaged at all, it’s as this elite area of practice that is difficult to access. Students of color, first-generation who are coming from communities where they don’t know lawyers when that’s all you hear and you don’t see anyone who looks like you in that space, it doesn’t feel accessible. All of that goes into why there aren’t more students early on who are setting themselves up for these opportunities.  

That’s interesting because, as practicing lawyers, we think about diversity initiatives as starting with the law firms. How do we increase diversity in appellate practice within the firms or other practice settings? I’m not sure that we think about it as much, originating all the way back to when the students are in law school. The suggestion is that the law schools themselves have a lot to contribute to an initiative to enhance diversity among appellate lawyers across the board.  

What I often see happening is that different parties point the finger at each other. The firms will say, “We take the students who come out of the clerkships. This is the clerkship pool. The judges will say, “Here are the students who get referred by the professors in the law schools.” Every step of that is important for law schools to communicate to students about appellate work and what it is. Making clear the steps students should take to set themselves up, why this work is important and why it’s important that we have diverse representation in these spaces. It’s for judges too to think about where they are getting their referrals from and what that pool looks like. Are you missing out on qualified candidates by going to the same networks that you often do? With appellate work, you often see it’s a handful of students at a handful of law schools who are connected in the right networks where they get those referrals.  

If you’re a student of color who’s first-generation and not plugged into those communities, you’re at a huge disadvantage but you could be amazing at this work. We are all missing out on those students when we don’t expand where we’re recruiting from. For folks who are in the appellate bar, it’s also immensely valuable to get involved with students and be part of that outreach. Our mentorship program, for example, one thing I’ve seen that’s valuable is students feeling seen and encouraged by someone who is an appellate attorney. They’re telling them, “You can do this. That makes a huge difference, especially if you catch a student early on. There are different ways in which this plays out. 

In the greater societal context and the law in general, it requires hard conversations and it requires intentionality to address this problem. Unfortunately, a lot of lawyers have a hard time having these hard conversations internally. It does require self-reflection and systemic reflection to be able to address these issues. Lawyers don’t like to be told that we’re wrong. Having conversations with lots of people about this issue, you do have to let your guard down and be okay with being uncomfortable having these conversations about why are we missing out on these opportunities? Is it something we are doing or something we’re not doing or a combination of both? How can we address these barriers internally? You have to have those conversations to be able to recognize and then address the problem.  

TALP 54 | Diversity In Appellate Practice

Diversity In Appellate Practice: It is important for law schools to communicate to students about appellate work and what it is. Making clear the steps students should take to set themselves up.

 

It’s an ongoing process. I’m constantly reflecting on myself and challenging myself to think about where my blind spots are and where I need to improve. That’s a journey that everyone goes on and it never ends, to your point.  

A lot of law firms have created diversity initiatives and some of them are doing it for the right reasons. We do need to have the bar and the appellate bar specifically be more accurate representation of the population of lawyers at large. Another motivator to that is it’s clientdriven too. In inhouse counsel, there are a lot of initiatives to make sure that the law firms and certain companies are hiring to do their work have a meaningful diversity initiative and not something that exists on paper. That’s a perfectly good reason for change, I suppose. It helps to drive it along. It’s a reality in the marketplace, which is something that The Appellate Project and that other movements have going for them. The folks who control the dollars are sitting up and taking notice of the shortcoming in our system. It’s encouraging to see that attention being paid to it. When you look at the numbers, you still realize how far we have to go to make the meaningful impact that ought to be made.  

On the numbers front, I shared these statistics during our launch event. These are pulled from the Federal Judicial CenterWhen you think about appellate lawyers, they have this enormous responsibility where they are shaping arguments and presenting the facts. These are matters of law. There are no juries. It’s an immense privilege to be able to do that work and be part of that deliberative process of deciding what these laws mean. Not infrequently, those attorneys become the judges and go onto other prestigious positions where they’re deciding policy as well.  

I often get asked, How bad is the problem?” One of the issues is there isn’t much data collected on racial diversity in these spaces. The Federal Judicial Center does collect data on all of the judges who’ve been on the bench on the federal side. I looked at the 882 judges at our launch event who had been federal appellate judges. To give you some sense of what this looks like, of those 882 judges, only 39 have been black. Less than 1% have been black women. Roughly 7% of the US population is black women but we have approximately 1.6% of the appellate bench that consists of black women. Of those 882 judges, only 22 have been Hispanic. Only six have been Hispanic women and that includes Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Of those 882, only 15 of those judges have been Asian-American Pacific Islander. Only two of those have been women. There has never, in all of those 882 judges, been a Native American man or woman on the federal appellate bench. Those numbers, to me, highlight what we’re talking about. We’re talking about equal justice under the law. Having those diverse lived experiences and perspectives strengthens our entire system when we have that. We need to have those voices and people in the room to reach the most just and fair decisions on these issues. 

That is one of the things that is always important to reiterate is what we are missing out. A lot of people think about diversity and see it as, “We need to do this because it’s the right thing to do. That’s great, but that’s only part of it because you are not thinking about what you’re missing out and you’re missing out on lived experiences, perspective. You’re missing out on people who can reach out to underrepresented communitiesIt’s an access to justice issue and perspective issue. Frankly, it’s a way to address and rethink the paradigms of practicing appellate law in general. There have always been these barrier requirements to the entry of appellate practice. It’s a fair question. Do those make sense? How should we think about this moving forward? Is it something we need to reevaluate? All of these things aren’t conversations that we can have unless we have all of the stakeholders at the table. To your point, we certainly haven’t been in the past. 

It also goes to the idea of public trust in these institutions. When communities of color who are impacted by these courts again and again, we don’t see anyone who looks like them in these spaces. It erodes trust. That’s a big problem for all of us. 

Particularly in the criminal justice space where you have an over-representation of communities on one side of it and under-representation, it’s hard to feel that you’re getting a fair shake in the justice system if none of the people who are making the decisions look like you but so many of the people who are on the other side do.  

I’m curious for you guys, as practitioners, what you’ve seen as some of the challenges or barriers when it comes to this issue in the Texas Appellate Bar. 

Part of it is historical. I don’t know what Texas diversity numbers look like. I don’t know that we keep those statistics in the same way that the Federal Center does. Probably it’s not necessarily feasible because our appellate judiciary turns over a lot more here. Anecdotally, I would say that our numbers are in line with that. There’s been an increase in those numbers in the last few years and we certainly know people on the bench where there is diversity. It’s something that is trending in the right direction but has been moving slowly. A lot of it has to do with the fact that every state judge in Texas from the Supreme Court down to the Justice of Peace is elected.  

Having those diverse lived experiences and perspectives strengthens our entire system. Click To Tweet

The governor does have appointment power, but the appointment power is backed up then by an election. The grounds that people are voting for judges on vary wildly. It’s hard to have any diversity initiative when the power ultimately rests with the voters. It may or may not have anything to do with that. That’s part of it. In Texas, part of it has been that the appellate community has been small and insular. In the last few years, it started to grow.  

In the last few decades, we do have a pretty robust appellate practice section in the state bar. That only started in about the 1980s, and it was a small group of practitioners that created it. It has grown. As you’ve seen, that’s a short timeline to develop and grow an appellate practice in Texas the way that it has. People are making the right moves in that space, but it takes time. There are still a lot of lawyers who have been practicing for a long time that may not see it as an issue or, “This is the way we’ve always done things. Why would we change it now? It’s all of those things.  

The electoral politics element of it makes it difficult to have any overarching initiative. You have to take it down to a grassroots level and encourage diverse candidates to run for those benches. When the governor does have the appointment power, he’s not hesitant to appoint females and minority candidates to those positions. They have tended to do well. To the extent, there is some greater institutional movement that can help to increase diversity. That is happening. It’s correct that the electoral politics element of it makes it difficult to have an organized movement toward it. At the same time, you still have to have candidates that folks perceive to be qualified. That doesn’t always happen. It doesn’t matter what the demographic of the candidates are. You have the judicial politics in play. There are folks who are going to get on the ballot who aren’t necessarily qualified no matter what their circumstance is.  

The local political parties can have an impact on this by trying to advance diverse candidates in the primaries and the general elections. It’s difficult to maneuver the political system when it comes to judicial politics. I do see some progress being made there. From a broader perspective, we’re going to be playing catch-up for quite a long time. You described, Juvaria, the situation in law schools, especially among firstgen minority lawyers that they don’t know about the system and the institutions. That’s one reason why I asked the question about law schools.  

The law schools are the place where this whole idea of what is it to be an appellate practitioner or an appellate judge and what do you have to do to connect the dots between point A and point B. That discussion has to start taking place in an outward front and center way. By doing that, we will see the broader change that we’re talking about needing to happen in the system. I don’t know that the law schools have done enough to advance that cause. They’re starting to catch up.  

There are things that can be done at the other levels. The judges can hire more diverse candidates. Law firms can hire diverse candidates. We mentioned dealing with it from the client level and wanting the firms to implement a diversity initiative. All of those things together can make a significant impact. When I think about the way you described your own experience, it highlighted for me the law schools are where the push for this needs to begin. With the support of all the other elements of the institutions, we have a good chance of getting at least a much better place than where we are. 

Let’s transition over to The Appellate Project itself. How did you come up with the idea of The Appellate Project and how did it get started?  

It took me a few years into my career before I started to meaningfully understand and get exposed to appellate practice. That was primarily when I started doing impact litigation. What struck me most was the lack of diversity, especially racial diversity in those appellate spaces. As an impact litigator, before you bring your case, you’re thinking about what’s going to happen on appeal in that case and how it might impact other cases and ten steps down the road. You’re looking at all the other appellate cases to see how they might impact what you’re doing and vice versa. Those cases often disproportionately impact communities of color.  

I would rarely see an attorney of color who is leading the case and certainly not arguing the case on the bench and the fact that those attorneys not infrequently end up becoming the judges. Thinking about that void, how palpable it was in the way the law was being shaped, the conversations that were being had behind the scenes, the law that’s being produced because appellate courts decide matters of law. You have to have those diverse voices, perspectives, and lived experiences in those rooms to reach the most informed decision.  

I am a Muslim woman, daughter of immigrants from rural Arizona, all of that shaped how I view the world but it’s not the only perspective. Each of us would have a different perspective and that’s great. We should all bring that into the room in these conversations. I started thinking about my own journey on how law school was challenging in the wrong ways. It wasn’t the academics. It was trying to figure out how I was supposed to get from A to B and trying to find people who could help me navigate that path and how that continued into practice.  

TALP 54 | Diversity In Appellate Practice

Diversity In Appellate Practice: With appellate work, you often see it’s a handful of students at a handful of law schools who are connected in the right networks where they get those referrals.

 

To be honest, it was frustrating to realize, years into my career, that there’s this thing called appellate work that I loved. This is my rhythm. This is my work. I love it. It’s so much better than trial work. It suited me so much more. How many things I would’ve done differently earlier on if someone had sat me down in law school and said, “You seem nerdy. You like legal research and writing. You want to do impactful work. Have you heard about appellate practice?  

I started talking to a lot of colleagues of color and then talking to law students of color. Was their experience similar to mine? The patterns quickly emerged. That led me to think“Are there other ways to address these systemic barriers that law students of color, especially those who are least represented in this space who are firstgen coming from communities where they don’t know lawyers can provide that same access and opportunities?”  

You still have to work hard. You still have to be good legal research and writer. Much of this is network-based and we don’t talk about that. Much of this is knowing basic information that students don’t get access to. That led to me developing these different programs. Eventually, at the end of 2019, I realized that if I was going to do this, I’d have to go full-time on it. I left my job. I developed the organization for a year, and we launched in September 2020. It’s been amazing to see the response and to see the difference that it made on the students already. 

I admire your dedication. You’re talking about turning this into your life’s work. That’s incredible.  

I appreciate that. It’s been a whirlwind. I did not expect to launch this during a pandemic. Lots of interesting new challenges but it’s been a great experience. I love getting to work with the students. They’re amazing. Also, to see the response from the appellate bar, that’s been affirming. There’s a lot of energy about wanting to do something about this that gives me hope.  

Can you talk a little bit about what you do? There’s the mentorship program, which I’m happy that I get to be part of the first class of that. I have loved it. I’m not going to speak for my mentee, but I’ve gotten a whole lot out of it. It’s been a great experience. There’s that aspect. I know you have a partnership with Howard University.  

I’m thrilled to have you in the mentorship program. We have a few lawyers from Texas, and we’d love to increase that because we have students who are based in Texas and want to work in Texas after graduation. Our first program is a partnership with Howard University’s law school with their civil rights clinic. We partnered with them to bring an appellate focus to it. Students work on civil rights appellate cases. It’s led by two appellate attorneys, Tiffany Wright and Ed Williams. In addition to building those substantive skills, students also get to meet appellate practitioners, get guidance and mentorship. Clinics being such an excellent way to get experience early on, there’s never been one at HBCU. There’s often a lot of inequities in who ends up in these clinics. We’re excited to partner with Howard, which incubated civil rights appellate advocacy itself.  

Our second program is our outreach program. One piece of that is the mentorship program where we pair law students of color who have demonstrated interest in appellate practice with appellate practitioners. Throughout the program, we provide additional resources. We’re providing networking opportunities with the appellate bar since it’s often an insular group and it’s hard to connect with folks sometimes. You don’t know what you don’t know. We want to make sure students know about different pathways and opportunities and are meeting people in the space. 

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We do clerkshiprelated events to try and support students as they navigate that process. Skillbuilding workshops. We’ve done a series of legal writing workshops. There are often a lot of inequities in how much writing experience you have coming into law school and the exposure you get. We’re making sure they have those bread-and-butter skills. Social events, getting to meet each other, getting to meet other folks in the space, and connecting with judges. Hopefully, that’s an opportunity for students to develop the holistic set of skills they need but also feel encouraged if this is an area of practice they want to pursue and conversely involve the appellate bar as well.  

We also do talks at law schools. Going back to you don’t know what you don’t know, we try to target 1Ls and talk to affinity groups about appellate practice and the steps you should if it’s something you’re interested in. We do events that are more broadly aimed at the public that educates about issues that are happening in this space and the impact they have on communities of color. For me, one thing that drives that is if appellate work is messaged in law school, it’s as if this academic area of practice that’s issues of law that are abstract and theoretical. The truth is they impact our everyday lives in the most personal ways, how we are policed, our education, our immigration system, our voting ability, everything.  

We did an event, for example, with Judge Carlton Reeves about his opinion in Jamison V. McLendon on qualified immunity, which traces the judicial origins of qualified immunity, its expansion and affirmance in the appellate space, and its disproportionate impact on black lives. We’re trying to start a discussion about why it’s important we have diverse representation in the appellate field and how it benefits all of us when we have that.  

How structured is the mentorship part of the program? Do you have an actual curriculum for the mentor and mentee to follow? Are you more connecting them and letting them do their own thing?  

We provide a mentorship handbook that gives suggested guidelines for how the mentor and mentee might want to communicate and get the most out of this partnership while they’re paired together. Our students are 1Ls to 3Ls. We have some evening students who are 4Ls. They are from law schools across the country. They’re coming at this from all different levels of experience. Some have heard about appellate work, think it’s interesting, love their legal writing class, but haven’t had that much experience. Others have their clerkships already lined up and they are wanting to talk about substantive legal issues. It’s such a variety. We’ve tried to provide an umbrella of guidance but then leave it to the mentor and mentee to adjust as useful for both of them. 

Unfortunately, it has to be a little bit flexible because of the pandemic. It makes it hard. My mentee is at SMU. Even though we’re not too far from one another, we haven’t met in person because we haven’t had the chance to. We’ve done a lot of virtual calls and hangouts and stuff, but we haven’t met in person yet.  

TALP 54 | Diversity In Appellate Practice

Diversity In Appellate Practice: Because appellate courts decide matters of law, you have to have those diverse voices, perspectives, and lived experiences to reach the most informed decision.

In normal times, Juvaria, would it be an objective to try and match a mentor and mentee who are close to each other geographically? Is that a non-issue anymore after COVID? 

No. I hope that we will be in a universe where folks can meet up in person soon. That’s invaluable to have someone familiar with the appellate bar in their area. We try to match as closely as we can people who have, for example, connections through going to the same schools so that the attorney can guide them through the unique situations of what that school’s process might entail or who have clerked in the area the student is in, etc. If there are students who have a specific area of appellate work they’re interested in, we try to connect folks based on that. It’s a number of factors, but geography is a big consideration.  

I can see some value in connecting a law student who has a desire to clerk for a particular court where the lawyer has had the experience of clerking with that court. It would be a whole different track of judicial clerkship advising. They’ve got to know about that path and then you have to match. I can only imagine the logistics on your end, the things that go on behind the scenes to try to match suitable mentors and mentees together. There are many different variables that can play into it.  

There were a lot of elaborate spreadsheets, whiteboards, and post-its. It looked a little crazy for a while during the matching process, for sure.  

How can we help? We, in the sense of attorneys, judges, and law schools. Anybody who’s reading this that has some connection to appellate law, what can they do if they want to help you? 

There are ways to get involved with us and then ways more broadly. For The Appellate Project, we are always looking for volunteers to be mentors, to do legal writing workshops, to join our networking events, and judges who are interested in speaking with our students. One thing that I do through the mentorship program is sharing appellate opportunities, whether those are internships, post-graduate fellowships. A lot of students are eager for these but don’t know about them so making sure there’s equitable dissemination of information.  

If there are opportunities and you’re trying to recruit and get the word out, sending those along, we’d be happy to share them. Spreading the word about our work, we want to make sure that we are reaching as diverse a pool of appellate attorneys and judges as we can. I mean that in every sense of the word. A lot of our students of color are eager to connect with people of color in this space. We also want to make sure that we have folks who are in different geographic regions, who are in different areas of appellate practice. Being an appellate litigator can entail coming to DC and working at a firm’s appellate practice group. That’s not the only way. Too often, that’s the only one that gets emphasized. We want to make sure students know about the different pathways and different opportunities for this work. Spreading the word and recruiting more folks to get involved is valuable. Frankly, how this has got as far as it has so far has been grassroots.  

Our website is TheAppellateProject.org. You can reach out through there if you want to get involved. We’re also on Twitter @ApellateProj. We’d love to hear from anyone interested. More broadly, going back to your point at the beginning, Jody, is doing the work individually on those uncomfortable conversations. Why does this room look this way? What is my role in this? What can I do? It’s on each of us individually to make those changes and have those conversations with ourselves and examine what we’re doing and what we still can do.  

In appellate work, what I’ve seen is often this idea of meritocracy. We rest ourselves on and reassure that we’re taking the best and brightest and this is the way that we identify them. The truth is so much is network-based. Thinking about, “What qualities do I need for this work? How can I identify students who have those skills? It will expand your pool dramatically and get you all the highly qualified candidates who are out there, which would strengthen the system for all of us. Doing that work internally.  

The last thing I’d say is don’t underestimate the power that you have as an individual to make a difference. The power of being seen and encouraged is huge, it makes all the difference. If someone had sat me down in law school and had that conversation about appellate work early on, it would have changed many things for me. That’s true for a lot of students. Oftentimes, we think changing a system is overwhelming but a system is made of individuals and we each have a powerful role in it. 

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Much of our issue has been there hasn’t been a pipeline. Anybody can add to the pipeline at any step of the process by not a whole lot of effort. If enough people do it, then you start to see significant change. You’re right, it can be individual actions that can have an outsized impact. If enough individuals come together, it does change the system even though no one person had to do it by themselves.  

One thing that I’ve been asking myself, Juvaria, as we’ve gone through this is how this project is funded and what those of us in the legal community can do to help, not just in terms of the networking side, but on the financial side, too.  

We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. I launched this during a pandemic not intentionally, so it’s difficult to fundraise as a new nonprofit in a pandemic. I fully appreciate that folks are in totally different stages as far as their abilities, but if people are in a position where they can support, we rely primarily on individual donations. I got this off the ground by just going to friends and family and asking whatever little they could give to have enough seed money to launch it, and we’ve continued that process. We’ve started outreach to firms as well. If there are law firms who want to sponsor and get involved and partner with us more formally, we welcome that. We encourage you to reach out through the website if you’re at a law firm and are interested.  

I understand the discomfort in talking about the financial side, but it’s important. One of the ways that we are interested in supporting what you’re doing is by helping to get the word out for that kind of thing. I appreciate your sheepishness about talking about the money side, but it’s critical and essential. What we’re not hearing from you is, “I started this great project. I quit my job to do it. Please send me money.”  

A lot of people can admire that. I do. We’re happy to help. It’s important for us, the Texas appellate bar, and the appellate bar nationally to support what you’re doing because it’s an incredibly important cause. Yes, it’s a pandemic. It’s hard to raise money in these times, but there are folks who are willing and able to do that. To the extent that we can use our network to help pull you into some people who are willing and able to contribute financially, we’re happy to do it. 

Thank you. I appreciate that.   

TALP 54 | Diversity In Appellate Practice

Diversity In Appellate Practice: The appellate practice impacts our everyday lives in the most personal ways—how we are policed, our education, our immigration system, our voting ability, everything.

I’m going to end this with something that I don’t usually do on this and it’s a plea. My plea is to get involved with The Appellate Project. I’ve had a fantastic experience in the mentorship program and if you don’t want to do that, get involved by donating. If you don’t want to do that, then get involved in whatever you can do to improve diversity in appellate practice. It could be as simple as sitting down and having an internal conversation with yourself about it.  

Acknowledge that there’s a problem and we as appellate practitioners are vested with an immense amount of privilege to be able to do what we do. We can share that privilege with a lot of people who don’t have access to our understanding of what that system is and it’s going to improve it for all of us at every level. From the people being served by the justice system, the people involved in the justice system, law students, judges, and attorneys. Take a little bit of time and reflect on what you can do, even if it’s just to think about these issues and let them sit in your heart for a while. That’s the end of my speech. I’m going to get down off my soapbox.  

I want to acknowledge what Jody said and support that 100%. I’m a first-gen lawyer but I had a different perspective as an Anglo male. A lot of folks of my ilk have a hard time understanding how much more difficult it is for people who don’t look like us. That not only applies to people of color but to females. We can have an ongoing debate on the show about whether women are at an advantage for civil appeals and civil appellate practice. There is a completely different perspective on that that ought to be explored, perhaps in another episode because, as white males, it’s not the way we see it.  

I’ll be a little vulnerable there and say yes, we’re seeing positive change, but it’s not enough. It needs to start within every institution that touches legal practice. There are a lot of schools that are doing good things, but there are schools that can do more. If you want to turn out appellate lawyers and judges, you need to educate your entire student body on what it takes to get there. Having one single advisor in the law school who’s the contact person for judicial clerkships without a coordinated effort to try and recruit people into that track is not enough. If anybody takes offense at that, I’m sorry but not sorry.  

I’ll call out everybody who is in hiring positions in this system, let’s talk about judges. Even if you’re not a person of color, you’re in a position to help impact this in a positive way and look at the candidates that come across your desk who compare favorably in every other way. Please give them the consideration. Firms are taking positive strides on this and perhaps one issue with the firms is feeling like there’s not always a great choice of candidates to choose from. That falls back on the other institutions because you have to feed that pipeline. Between the schools, the judges, and the firms, and I’ll go ahead and toss out, I’ll call out bar associations, too, while I’m at it since.  

Oftentimes, we think changing a system is overwhelming, but a system is made of individuals, and we each have a powerful role in it.  Click To Tweet

This is one of my particular areas of interest. Developing leaders across the board, whatever practice area it may be, is super important. If we want to achieve something approaching equity across practice areas and across firm sizes, we need to be thinking about, “How can we make the bar, firms, schools, and every place more closely resemble what the actual population looks like?” If we’re able to keep that principle in mind, we can take some serious steps in the right direction. That’s a little more soapboxed than usually anyone gets, but I can’t let Jody be the only one who gets to step on the soapbox. 

Juvaria, you’ve been gracious with your time and I certainly enjoyed the conversation and learning more about what you’re doing. I knew about it, but not nearly enough and now I feel much better educated about it. We’re certainly pleased to support The Appellate Project here on our podcast.  

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About Juvaria Khan

TALP 54 | Diversity In Appellate PracticeJuvaria founded The Appellate Project in 2019. A civil rights litigator by background, she is driven by the belief that our courts are strongest when they reflect our communities.

Juvaria’s interest in the law stems from her passion for civil rights advocacy. After clerking for the Honorable Michael P. Shea in the District Court of the District of Connecticut, Juvaria worked at the law firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, where she maintained a heavy pro bono practice focusing on racial and religious discrimination claims. She then served as a Senior Staff Attorney at the national legal advocacy organization Muslim Advocates, where she successfully combined litigation and public campaign strategies in cases ranging from public accommodation claims to religious land use lawsuits.

Juvaria’s work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Independent, and Bloomberg Law. She is a frequent public speaker on issues related to civil rights and diversity. Juvaria is a recipient of the 2021 Roddenberry Fellowship, 2020 American Express NGen Fellowship, and the Asian American Bar Association of DC’s 2020 Community Appreciation Award.

Juvaria received her B.A. in Political Science and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies from New York University and her J.D. from Columbia Law School, where she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar.

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