Letter From The President Of The New York County Lawyers' Association

2007-12-01 01:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

I was recently a guest speaker at the 4th Annual Minority Law Student Leadership Summit hosted and sponsored by Mayer Brown LLP. The theme of the two-day conference of minority law student group leaders was "Motivating Excellence." One question asked: Which diversity initiatives actually work? The answer: Actions speak louder than words. Only a diversity program that produces results can be deemed to be a success.

In 2000, NYCLA created a Task Force to study and evaluate the status of minorities in the legal profession and to develop concrete recommendations that would increase diversity at all levels. The Task Force included federal and state judges, lawyers from the private and public sector, and academics. In 2002, during Craig Landy's presidency, the Task Force, chaired by New York State Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives Juanita Bing Newton, issued a comprehensive report setting forth recommendations, which included:

• Bar associations should take steps to insure that their leadership and committees are diverse, and must promote diversity throughout all segments of the legal profession.

• Bar associations should develop mentoring programs and provide networking opportunities in which minority attorneys who work in solo practices or in small firms can participate.

• Corporate clients should require law firms to report the number of hours devoted to their matters by minority lawyers and the corporations should report the amounts of legal fees they pay for services rendered by minority lawyers.

• Law firms and legal organizations should establish a formal diversity policy, develop a diversity program and monitor their progress.

The Task Force Report was sent to bar associations and leading law firms and corporations for their consideration. NYCLA convened a meeting with leaders from major law firms and major corporations' law departments. There was a consensus that a "statement of principles," calling on law firms and law departments to join us in adopting formal diversity policies and in developing and implementing formal diversity programs, should be circulated. There was also consensus that the statement should reflect that it is reasonable for corporate clients to ask their law firms to report the number of hours devoted to the clients' matters by minority lawyers and for corporations to publicly report the amounts of legal fees that they pay for services rendered by minority lawyers.

In 2003, NYCLA released two "Diversity Statements" urging bar associations, law firms and corporations to sign on in order to: (1) reflect and confirm their support for efforts to increase diversity in the legal profession; (2) engage the attention of their lawyers, and (3) focus attention on practical strategies for achieving meaningful diversity. To date, over 200 bar associations and major law firms and corporations have signed statements, reflecting a new approach to increasing diversity.

In September, Kenneth C. Frazier, Executive Vice President and President of Global Human Health, Merck & Co., Inc., stated at the 45th Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Lecture held at NYCLA, "There is much more to be done." Indeed, the need for increased diversity is not limited to law firms and corporations. There is room for improvement in public sector offices and the judiciary. Historically, it has been the judicial branch where oppressed groups have sought redress for violations of their rights. An effective way to prevent bias in the courtroom against litigants and lawyers is to ensure that the judiciary and the lawyers who appear in court on behalf of the public reflect the community they serve.

The actions NYCLA undertakes to increase diversity in the profession include:

• Aggressive recruitment of women, attorneys of color and LGBT attorneys as chairs, board members and leaders at NYCLA.

• Sponsorship of NYCLA's Summer Minority Judicial Internship Program.

• Pursuit of collaborative arrangements with minority bar associations.

NYCLA will continue its leadership role in making meaningful contributions to improve diversity in the legal profession and promote equal opportunity for all attorneys.

Sincerely, Catherine A. Christian