Posted Jul 01, 2007 06:26 pm CDT
That commitment continues to evolve as society recognizes the value of broadly defined diversity. In February, the ABA House of Delegates expanded the association’s diversity goal, which now states:
“To promote full and equal participation in the legal profession by minorities, women and persons with disabilities, and persons of differing sexual orientations and gender identities.”
The works that support those words make the real difference. All of our diversity efforts are grounded in the central principle that the legal profession and the justice system must be diverse and inclusive to reflect the best in our nation.
The association has worked to support its Goal IX diversity commitment in many ways, through the Commission on Women in the Profession, the Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law and the entities discussed in this column.
The ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession focuses its work on serving lawyers, judges and those already in the profession. Recently, it launched a new initiative—Call to Action for Insurance Companies—encouraging insurance companies to proactively retain minority lawyers, especially solo and small-firm practitioners.
The ABA Presidential Advisory Council on Diversity in the Profession works with educational and community groups to prepare minority students for a legal career, improving diversity in “the pipeline.” In March, the advisory council hosted a regional workshop that brought together law firm leaders and corporate counsel. They learned how they could play a critical role, increasing the number of minority students well-equipped to enter the legal profession.
For the past seven years, the ABA Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund has helped to promote pipeline diversity through significant three-year grants. The program has awarded $2.1 million to 140 minority law students so far, and it plans to award 20 new scholarships this summer. We must continue to support this worthwhile effort.
The ABA Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice addresses diversity issues in the justice system. Most recently, it held a conference focusing on the overrepresentation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system. Last November, the council hosted a national conference in New Orleans—Making the Invisible Visible: A Dialogue About Lessons Learned in the Aftermath of Katrina.
These groups are under the umbrella of the Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity, chaired by Paula Frederick. Many of the ABA sections and divisions also have significant diversity programs and initiatives.
Shouldn’t they all?
The association’s work in promoting full and equal participation in the legal profession has yielded measurable progress—yet much more work remains.
As the ABA pursues these goals, efforts are bolstered by the impressive work of bar groups, legal employers, the judiciary and others in the profession.
I saw one example in Seattle, where the King County Bar Foundation’s annual Breakfast with Champions brought together 1,500 lawyers and raised $300,000 for the foundation’s diversity scholarship fund.
The audience met Lena Madden, who became an unwed mother at the age of 15 and was the victim of domestic abuse. She has prevailed over much adversity and now attends Seattle University Law School, assisted by a scholarship from the King County Bar Foundation. She will graduate with honors! Lena was an inspiration to all of us at the breakfast. But then, so are all efforts that help our profession embrace the richness of our diverse society.