GPSolo April/May 2007
THE CHAIR’S CORNER
Goal IX, Diversity, and Our Division
To promote full and equal participation in the legal profession by minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and persons of differing sexual orientations and gender identities.
– Goal IX, the American Bar Association’s diversity goal
I have good news and bad news to report. When first interviewed by the Nominating Committee back in 2002, I pledged to do whatever I could do to increase diversity in the Division. Since then, the Division has had phenomenal success in advocating racial diversity (the good news) but has had limited success in promoting equal participation by women (the bad news).
The Good News
Early in the planning process for my year as Chair of the Division, I began working with Michael McBride on diversity issues and originally planned to have a joint meeting with one of the Native American bar associations. After researching the possibility of holding such a meeting, Lawrence Baca suggested that we consider a joint meeting with the Coalition of Bar Associations of Color, which holds its meeting each spring in Washington, D.C. Amy Lin Meyerson, Past President of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, worked diligently for more than a year to coordinate this joint meeting. Unfortunately, at the last minute a scheduling conflict prevented us from holding this joint meeting. Nevertheless, important relationships have been forged with these organizations through our outreach efforts.
The Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law, of which Scott LaBarre is chair and Randi Whitehead and David Wolfe are members, has named the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division to its Honor Roll for the last several years. The Division is grateful for this honor, but we all know there is still more work to be done with the Commission. I am pleased that the Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law has agreed to hold a joint meeting with us in May 2007, in Washington, D.C., as part of our annual Spring Meeting. This will be a wonderful opportunity for members of both the Division and Commission to meet and learn from each other. I am sure that this interaction will allow each group to garner a better understanding of each other’s interests.
The Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession has also issued its Goal IX Report for 2006-2007. As indicated in the report each year, “the Commission highlights diversity efforts that stand out from the rest by naming a Goal IX Honor Roll amongst Sections, Divisions and Forums, both as a reward for hard work and successful ideas and as encouragement and catalyst for all.” The Commission noted that:
The General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division continues to work toward making diversity a priority in the Division. It has continued its successful Diversity Fellowship program wherein it recruits minority members. . . . The Division sponsors two award programs . . . which celebrate the achievements and hard work of minority leaders. . . . We commend the Division’s work and we have every expectation that its ongoing and future diversity programming, recruitment and retention efforts will continue to serve an underrepresented segment of the profession while it diversifies its own leadership in the process.
Goal IX was only recently amended to include persons of differing sexual orientations and gender identities. No report has been issued relating to these important matters, but I believe it is safe to say that the Division includes many persons of differing sexual orientations and gender identities in leadership roles.
Early in the planning process for my year as Division Chair, I requested that an issue of GPSolo magazine be dedicated to the topic of diversity. The GPSolo Editorial Board, including the Editor-in-Chief jennifer rose, along with members Jeffrey Allen, Joan Burda, Martha Church, David Leffler, Karen Lynch, Larry Ramirez, James Schwartz, Bryan Spencer, and Judy Toyer agreed with me and worked diligently to produce this edition of the magazine. Issue Editor Joan Burda shouldered much of this work.
The Bad News
In the Goal IX Report Card, the Annual Report of the Women’s Advancement into Leadership Positions in the American Bar Association, dated February 2006, from the Commission on Women in the Profession, noted that the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division is only one of three entities without women officers. Since 2000 the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division has had only one woman officer: Karen Mathis, who served for four years on the leadership ladder. Year after year, the Commission on Women in the Profession makes the same comments. I am pleased to report that two women applied to the nominating committee this year for the position of secretary and one of them has been nominated.
It took me a long time to realize just how important diversity is to the Division. I’m just a “kid from Waukesha County, Wisconsin,” raised in a family of six boys by a strong-willed mother and a father who never treated her as anything other than an equal. I have to admit that for quite some time I never really understood the true meaning of diversity, especially when it came to women. Through my work in the American Bar Association, I have come to see the importance of having minorities, women, persons with disability, and persons of differing sexual orientations and gender identities sharing their thoughts, ideas, goals, leadership, and life experiences as part of the process we have all come to enjoy in shaping the future of the Division.
I often heard the phrase, “we need to be in the room,” but I had never fully recognized its importance. The wonderful opportunity I have been given to serve as your Chair in the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division has taught me a thing or two about just how important it is. The minority members, women members, members with disabilities, and members of differing sexual orientations and gender identities have taught me so much. They have taught me to be a better listener, more patient, and hopefully more caring. All of my life experiences with the American Bar Association have been extremely fulfilling and have helped me to grow. Although I am still no world traveler or urbane sophisticate and have a lot to learn, I guess the kid who never lived outside of Waukesha County can at least now say he has a better understanding of the importance of diversity in all of our lives. Thanks to my many friends for making this realization possible.