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Leadership slate shows diversity in action at ABA Midyear

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panel of speakers talking and listening

Deborah Enix-Ross looks on as Hilarie Bass speaks to the Nominating Committee. Photo by Kathy Anderson.

The ABA's commitment to bringing diversity to its leadership ranks was on dramatic display at its Nominating Committee meeting in Houston.

At a "coffee with the candidates" session held during the ABA Midyear Meeting, six current or soon-to-be officers of the association sat together facing an audience of their fellow members. And only one of the people at the podium was a white male.

Given the changing collective face of the ABA's leadership ranks, that fact was not a shock, but it was duly noted by some of the candidates and audience members.

"It shows how far this association has come," said Bernice B. Donald, a Memphis, Tennessee-based judge of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the first woman of color to serve as secretary (2008-2011). "Our association is unalterably committed to diversity and inclusion, and what you saw today is a sign of that. And that's going to continue, and it's a great place to be."

The ABA is likely to intensify its efforts to bring more diversity and inclusion to its own membership and the entire profession, and to focus more on issues of equal treatment.

"Why is it that only women are asked about work-life balance? Why don't we ever ask men about work-life balance?" said Mary L. Smith, who is unopposed to become ABA secretary for a three-year term starting in August 2017. An attorney in Lansing, Illinois, Smith is currently president of the National Native American Bar Association.

Linda Klein talking in a crowd

Photo of Linda Klein, ABA president-elect nominee, by Kathy Anderson.


The other candidates at the podium are also unopposed, making their elections a virtual lock. They include Hilarie Bass, a shareholder and co-president of Greenberg Traurig in Miami, who is seeking to become president-elect starting in August 2016 (and president a year later); and Deborah Enix-Ross, a black woman who is senior adviser to the international dispute resolution group at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York City, who is seeking to become chair of the House of Delegates for a two-year term starting in August 2016. They were joined by Patricia Lee Refo, a partner at Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix and current chair of the House, and ABA Secretary Mary T. Torres, a partner at Beall & Biehler in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The only white male on the podium was James Dimos, a member of Frost Brown Todd in Indianapolis who is seeking a three-year term as ABA treasurer starting in August 2017.

The formal election of those candidates still is a year away, but the Nominating Committee did formalize its selection of Linda A. Klein of Atlanta—the managing shareholder in the Georgia offices of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz—as the ABA's president-elect nominee.

Klein will be officially elected by the House to serve as president-elect at the 2015 annual meeting in Chicago, and she will begin her one-year term as president starting in August 2016. She will follow current President-elect Paulette Brown, a black woman and a partner at Locke Lord in Morristown, New Jersey, who will become president in August.

"It makes me proud," said Klein about the diversity of ABA officers and candidates. "It gives me a lot of confidence in the future of our association, because diversity leads to the best decisions." ABA President William C. Hubbard also emphasized diversity in his midterm report to the House. "Our greatest strength is our diversity," said Hubbard, a partner at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough in Columbia, South Carolina. "Greater diversity makes us better lawyers and better stewards of the justice system."

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: "Visible Change: Leadership slate shows diversity in action."
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