Raising the Tempo
A few years ago, I was privileged to lead a group of talented ABA members to examine the long-range outlook of the legal profession and identify our preferred future. Central to this preferred future was the ambition to see our profession more closely reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the society we represent.
Diversity is what gives this country its vibrancy, its enthusiasm and perspective. It’s no accident that the most heterogeneous nation on Earth is also the most powerful and wealthy. Diversity brings a depth of experience and a breadth of outlook to a task that nothing else quite can.
The diversity of our preferred future will allow us new levels of service to our clients, improved relations with a public that is often distrustful, greater esteem for our judiciary, and new heights of education in our law schools. In short, justice marches forward as diversity marches forward.
Now, the ABA cannot create a diverse profession by itself, but it can be a catalyst. A good distance from its regrettable history of exclusion, this association has become a great champion of diversity–inspiring, agitating and motivating the legal profession to seek out its true potential.
This work began in earnest with the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, founded nearly 20 years ago by our esteemed immediate-past President Dennis W. Archer. The commission has provided an immeasurable voice and leadership for the tough issues of fully mainstreaming minority lawyers and law firms into the lucrative, intellectually stimulating legal services provided by the profession.
The ABA Council on Racial & Ethnic Justice, initiated by former ABA President Sandy D’Alemberte, has been a catalyst for eliminating racial and ethnic bias in the justice system with a focus on systemic change. The council’s service to our profession is a source of tremendous pride to every lawyer who takes an oath to uphold justice and equality.
And Bill Paul, the gentleman lawyer from Oklahoma, used his own term as ABA president to advance the cause by establishing the President’s Advisory Council on Diversity in the Profession to examine the pipeline issues that help or hinder an adolescent’s road to a career in the law. And, as if that wasn’t enough accomplishment in a single-year term, he also created a first-of-its-kind scholarship fund to provide young men and women of color with the keys to a law school education that would have otherwise been financially out of reach.
Time for Reinvigoration
But the only way the accomplishments of our past and present remain vital is to redouble our efforts to the future. Progress requires it. Progress obliges us to raise the tempo, to refuel and refocus. I believe it is time for the association, and the profession, to celebrate how far we’ve come and the progress we’ve made and to use that momentum to make another strong leap forward.
Raising the tempo means finding new opportunities for coordination among the entities within the ABA. Raising the tempo means taking the great ideas discussed and developed at diversity conferences and converting them into action steps that can make a real difference in our profession. Raising the tempo is about considering new paradigms, new models, new ways of tackling old problems.
To this end, I have re-enlisted Paul to lead a committee of some of the great intellects and strategists of our profession such as Charles Ogletree, Ray Ocampo, Jane H. Barrett and others. They will not only step out of the box but also transform the box. They will draft a blueprint for the ABA’s future work in diversity by leveraging the progress we have made, the knowledge we have gained and the good will we have earned. And they will combine that with the input of all who wish to share their perspective and produce a vision to take diversity (and the ABA’s advocacy for it) to the next level.
Diversity is central to our credibility both as a nation and as a profession. Accessing the richness and depth of our cultural fabric is a moral imperative, a business imperative and a justice imperative.
I ask every member of this association to visit the ABA Web site, learn more about this critical issue, and contribute your thoughts and energy to this endeavor.