AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION TO DEVELOP AN AGENDA BASED ON DIVERSITY SUMMIT IDEAS
CHICAGO —“Diversity encompasses more than visible differences of gender and race, or more subtle differences of disability and sexual orientation, to include differences of perspective and viewpoint. The legal profession will achieve its greatest potential when it draws on all these differences of humankind, and serves the needs of all,” said H. Thomas Wells Jr., American Bar Association president, reflecting the consensus of attendees at the ABA Presidential Summit on “Diversity in the Legal Profession: The Next Steps?”
Wells pledged the association will compile ideas generated by 200 lawyers, judges and academics at the summit June 18-20 in National Harbor, Md., into an agenda for enhancing diversity in the legal profession. For more comments from Wells, click here.
While more than 30 percent of U.S. population represents racial or ethnic minorities, fewer than 12 percent of lawyers do. Despite the fact that women now equal about half of law students, they remain underrepresented in all areas of practice. Figures are not available representing lawyers with disabilities, or lawyers with gender orientation or sexual identity differences.
A preliminary report will be in hand by the time the ABA convenes for its 2009 Annual Meeting July 30-Aug. 4 in Chicago. Ideas ranged from organized professional programs of outreach to elementary schools to leveraging the purchasing power of such major legal clients as corporations and government to encourage legal employers to increase practical support for diverse young lawyers. For full details about the summit, click here.
ABA President-Elect Carolyn B. Lamm of Washington, D.C., and President-Elect Nominee Stephen N. Zack of Miami joined Wells in promising a steady and firm commitment by the association to advancing diversity goals.
“Whatever the genesis of discrimination,” the result “is marginalization,” said Lamm. That marginalization “will not be tolerated going forward—it must be eliminated,” she said. Lamm emphasized the importance of expanding the pipeline of education and reaching down into primary grades to encourage children from all corners of society to view law as a career opportunity accessible to them. For video of Lamm at the summit, click here.
Zack, who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba, cited his own nomination to become the association’s first Hispanic president as a sign of progress. He cited ideas generated at the summit to advance diversity as encouraging, but said “unless we make legal education more affordable, we will not have diverse lawyers.” Zack tied the need for a more diverse profession to societal needs for legal services.
“One out of every two phone calls to the Legal Services Corporation [the federal agency funding civil legal aid to the nation’s poor] goes unanswered” said Zack, adding “If you talk about a pipeline, that pipeline is closed.” For Zack’s remarks, click here.
The concept of diversity expanded during the summit to include diversity of perspective. U.S. Rep. G. K. Butterfield of North Carolina, among summit speakers, cited the still limited number of women and ethnic minorities serving as judges in state and federal courts. In decisions ranging from trial judges imposing sentences to supreme courts ruling on issues not directly addressed by statute, judges exercise tremendous discretion, and sometimes establish public policy, he said.
“It is a terrible mistake to make public policy without diverse viewpoints. Viewpoint diversity advances democracy,” Butterfield said. To hear Butterfield’s remarks, click here.
Wells convened the summit working through the ABA Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity, Commission on Women in the Profession, Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law and Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. The Summit’s planning committee co-chairs Eduardo Rodriguez of Brownsville, Texas, and Judge James Wynn of the
North Carolina Court of Appeals, Raleigh
, will oversee production of the preliminary report.
With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.