'RESIST DIVERSITY FATIGUE,’ Urges American Bar Association President at National Summit
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD., Unless the legal profession ratchets up its success in achieving diversity, society will look somewhere else for its leaders, American Bar Association President H. Thomas Wells Jr. of Birmingham, Ala., told guests at his “National Summit on Diversity in the Legal Profession: The Next Steps?” today in Maryland.
“Marching in place can sometimes equate to falling behind. Let us not allow the genuine advances we have made to cause us to succumb to diversity fatigue,” he urged. Wells convened the summit to reenergize the legal profession’s efforts for inclusion by expanding outreach to persons with disabilities and persons of varying sexual orientations and gender identities as part of a campaign for a more representative bar.
Kareem Dale, special assistant to President Barack Obama for disabilities policy, heralded a new awareness of diversity issues as the nation has its first African American president, and has seen nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, potentially the first Latina to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Dale cited a wide range of appointees, both to White House staff and in widespread government positions, as evidence of a renewed commitment to enforcement of rights for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or other factors. In his own special capacity, said Dale, “our goal is to make sure there is integration and inclusion for all people with disabilities.”
ABA President-Elect Carolyn Lamm of Washington, D.C., urged attendees to identify practical steps moving forward, and pledged to implement them, saying crafting achievable plans will benefit society, as well as the profession.
“We have left out so many people who we want at the table,” said Irene Recio, an immigration lawyer from Richmond, Va., challenging attendees to recognize and remember why diverse groups should be there. Her firm has offices worldwide, she noted, and the laws and culture in some nations conflict with diversity goals. Diversity proponents must find ways to address those conflicts, she said.
Linda Crump, assistant to the chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for equity, access and diversity programs, urged attendees to remember “what it feels like to actually be excluded,” and to foster discussion of the impact of exclusion as a step toward inclusion.
John Brittain, chief counsel of The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, stressed the importance of research and data to creating an agenda. Of approximately 30,000 state court judges, said Brittain, only about eight to 10 percent are judges of color. African Americans represent about five percent of the states’ judges, Latinos about three percent, Asian and Pacific Islanders less than one percent, and Native Americans make up a negligible proportion.
The summit continues through Saturday in the Gaylord Hotel.
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.