American Bar Association Tackles Diversity With 'Next Steps' Report, Fields A Panoply Of Efforts To Meet Diversity Challenges

Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - 00:00

I. S. Leevy Johnson

Chair, ABA Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity

The American Bar Association's commitment to diversity is embodied in a formal Association goal, to "Eliminate Bias and Enhance Diversity."

Because nothing is accomplished by happenstance, the ABA created its Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity as the driver of a multi-faceted approach to advance that goal by promoting full and equal participation in the Association, in the legal profession, and in the justice system and by working to eliminate bias in the legal profession and the justice system.

The Center is the fulcrum for efforts across the ABA, coordinating activities by the Association's many component parts, sections, divisions and forums reflecting common areas of legal practice, practice settings or shared areas of professional interest.

Hot off the press is a preliminary edition of the report, " Diversity in the Legal Profession: Next Steps Report and Recommendations," which lays out a series of proposals for action by the ABA and the rest of the legal profession to advance diversity encompassing race and ethnicity, gender, disability, and sexual orientation.

ABA President Carolyn B. Lamm's Commission on Diversity, chaired by Oregon Court of Appeals Judge Ellen F. Rosenblum, spearheaded publication of the Next Steps report. The report's primary authors are a legal scholar team, led by Professor Margaret Montoya of the University of New Mexico School of Law. The other team members include Tucker Culbertson of Syracuse Law School and Mark Tizoc Gonzalez of the University of California, Berkeley.

Next Steps reflects findings and conclusions from a series of events and activities launched by last year's presidential diversity initiative, a national summit co-chaired by Eduardo R. Rodriguez of Brownsville, TX, and Judge James A. Wynn, Jr. We want your comments, and urge you to read the report, and e-mail your thoughts to the Center at diversity@staff.abanet.org.

A final version of the report will be issued in early April, and comments received by March 15 will inform that presentation. But this is an ongoing discussion, one that we envision continuing and growing new ideas and new energy for accomplishments ahead. Your comments will help fuel that dialogue, at this discussion site: http://new.abanet.org/centers/ diversity/Pages/NextStepsComments.aspx.

I want to share more about Next Steps with you, but first a word about another brand new Center product, Diversity Showcase III, published in collaboration with the many ABA entities that conduct their own diversity initiatives. Showcase III , features the activities of over 25 ABA sections, divisions and forums. This is your one-stop shop for information on diversity projects and activities across the ABA. For a free copy, email a request to diversity@staff. abanet.org.A roadmap to diversity initiatives throughout the ABA is also featured on the Center's website: http://new.abanet.org/centers/diversity/.

Launching The Drive To The Next Steps

In August 2008, then-ABA President H. Thomas Wells, Jr., convened an examination of the state of diversity in the legal profession, and assigned the task to a commission chaired by Judge Wynn and Brownsville practitioner Rodriguez. He charged them to ask: Where are we with diversity in the legal profession and what are the next steps we need to take to gain real advancement? They spent a year posing those questions to a wide range of stakeholders throughout the profession. We now have answers from the many voices that contributed to that year-long conversation.

Gathering The Information

This report and recommendations reflect information presented and discussed throughout the extensive information-gathering process, particularly addressing diversity from the perspectives of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disability. The process included four major phases.

Regional Hearings - A total of 58 legal professionals provided testimony in four regional hearings:

• February 2009: Boston, at the ABA Midyear Meeting

• March 2009: Atlanta, co-sponsored by The State Bar of Georgia

• March 2009: San Francisco, co-sponsored by The Bar Association of San Francisco and The State Bar of California

• April 2009: Columbus, co-sponsored by The Ohio State Bar Association

Qualitative Surveys - Over six months, more than 150 representatives of bar associations, legal employers in public, private and nonprofit sectors; courts; the legal academy; corporate legal departments, and others who completed an online State of Diversity survey provided valuable input.

Diversity Summit - Held in June 2009, this event brought together 200 thought-leaders and decision-makers in the legal community who are committed to sustaining the relevance and viability of diversity in our profession.

Diversity Roundtables - At the ABA Annual Meeting in August 2009, we conducted eight roundtable discussion using topics gleaned from the Diversity Summit. More than 80 participants contributed to these thought-provoking, courageous conversations. Summary Reports of each phase of the process are available on the Center's website: http://new.abanet.org/ centers/diversity/.

Using The Information

Continuing the commitment, current ABA President Carolyn B. Lamm appointed Judge Rosenblum to lead the next phase of the project. The project's Legal Scholar Team and Practitioner Working Group analyzed summary reports to produce the newly released preliminary edition. Modeling the structure of the regional hearings and summit, this report focuses on four categories of the profession:

• Law Schools and the Academy

• Law Firms and Corporate Law Departments

• Government and the Judiciary

• Bar Associations

In distilling an immense mountain of information, the reviewers recognized the challenge of summarizing and prioritizing multiple - often competing - voices on a complex topic. Their task was exacerbated by the wide-ranging nature of the audience that we hope will use the final report. Different readers will come to the report with varying familiarity with diversity issues. Laden with diversity fatigue, some seasoned campaigners for the cause may respond that they "tried these same recommendations back in 1993, and they didn't work." Yet the same recommendations may motivate diversity newcomers with excitement.

But whatever the diversity experience or perspective of an individual reader, the report offers something to help determine next steps for promoting diversity in the legal profession. Each individual or organization should identify recommendations that align with their own interests and resources. While the recommendations are not designed to be exhaustive or comprehensive, they offer strategic starting points to take actions that will move the legal profession closer to being fully diverse and inclusive.

Taking The Next Steps

This report and recommendations represent a strategic point on a continuum, not a culmination of a project. ABA leadership for coming years has committed itself to support this as an ongoing process. The ABA and its constituent entities will carefully review these recommendations to identify which ones we can implement.

Share the report. Direct your colleagues to the online version (http://new.abanet. org/centers/diversity/), and give us your feedback. We want to learn:

• Your general comments about the substance.

• Your ideas on how to broadly disseminate its content. If you think particular groups or individuals should receive it, please provide those names.

• Other information on relevant diversity research in the past five years that would be helpful to include in an addendum.

• Details about existing diversity resources that will help individuals and organizations implement these recommendations.

Key Elements For The Ongoing Dialogue

The report's authors included a series of "Emerging Issues," short descriptions of developments in law or policy or practices that they felt should be highlighted. We invite you to comment on these highlighted issues. The "Diversity Dialogue" includes questions and observations to prompt reflection, debate, and, ultimately, progress. The report also provides "Rationales for Diversity," which are contrasted with rationales for diversity in medicine. The section on "Trends and Disappointments" examines whether programs or ideas are taking hold in several places, whether programs flourished or failed, and what seemed to work or not to work.

Professor Montoya describes the process that produced this report as a "year-long town hall in which we listened to many voices. We learned again that all of us who are working toward diversity must renew our skills and refresh our perspectives as new developments and persistent barriers challenge our resolve. Diversity, we were reminded, is a journey and not a destination. None of us are experts and we learn together through our mistakes, which often lead to insights."

"We have much to do to create a climate of inclusion in the profession and we must accelerate the pace of change," Professor Montoya observes. "The reality is that there are vast under-representations of people of color, LGBT lawyers, lawyers with disabilities and other marginalized groups. As the U.S. races toward a future where minorities will be the majority, projected by the year 2042, we must start acting like diversity really is a crisis for the legal profession; our actions must match our rhetoric."

The Center's Three-Prong Approach

The Center is a critical component to the success of the ABA efforts to achieve its diversity goal, as the Center is the administrative and programmatic oversight body for the three major ABA entities that focus on racial and ethnic diversity issues. The Center's three constituent entities, each with a distinct focus are:

• Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, chaired by Fred W. Alvarez of Palo Alto, CA, is the catalyst for creating leadership and professional opportunities for racially and ethnically diverse lawyers.

• Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice, chaired by Judge David A. Perkins of Detroit, focuses on social justice issues and works to develop partnerships and eliminate bias in the justice system.

• Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline, chaired by Ruthe C. Ashley of Sacramento, works to increase diversity among students in the educational pipeline from pre-kindergarten to the profession.

The Center works closely with three other ABA entities that are integral to the success of fulfilling the Association's formal goal to "Eliminate Bias and Enhance Diversity." They are:

Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law, chaired by Alex J. Hurder of Nashville, which promotes the ABA's commitment to justice and the rule of law for persons with mental, physical, and sensory disabilities and to promote their full and equal participation in the legal profession.

Commission on Women in the Profession, chaired by Roberta D. Liebenberg of Philadelphia, which assesses the status of women in the legal profession, identifies barriers to their advancement and recommends to the ABA actions to address the problems the commission identifies.

Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, chaired by Courtney J. Joslin of Davis, CA, which works to secure for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender legal professionals full and equal access to and participation in the ABA, the legal profession, and the justice system. The ABA currently supports 11 different groups or projects that address LGBT issues.

Should you have any questions about the work of the Center, its constituent entities, or diversity initiatives throughout the ABA, please contact us at (312) 988-5667 or diversity@staff.abanet.org.