Goal IX Newsletter

Summer 2005, Volume 11, Number 3

A Commitment to Diversity - Ten Years Later by: Janet L. Rice

Approximately ten years ago, the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association made a major commitment to address issues of diversity and increase women and minority participation in the organization. Up to that point, there had been efforts to increase the participation of women and minorities and change the culture of the organization but the results had been sporadic and uneven. In 1996, a task force was set up to analyze the entire organization and “institutionalize” the organization’s resolve to bring women and minority lawyers into the organization. The following ten years has shown that a large lawyer organization can change by seriously committing itself to diversifying its membership and keeping diversity as an ongoing goal.

Janet L. Rice

In 1996, the task force looked at every area of the organization to analyze what concrete methods could be used to advance the goal of diversity. The emphasis was placed on practical, tangible things that could be planned, implemented, and then built upon. The task force first looked at the board of directors of the organization which is made up of a cross section of the membership and acts as the decision making body of the organization. The task force recommended diversity training of the board and assigned it the responsibility to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the task force. To ensure that there would be ongoing monitoring of the task force’s recommendations, the task force required the president-elect of the organization to report to the board annually on the implementation of the task force’s recommendations, before the president-elect assumed the office of president of the organizaton.

The task force also looked at each area of the organization to determine how to increase its commitment to diversity. The task force paid particular attention to the committee that organized seminars, the membership committee, the diversity/outreach committee and the convention committee. For each of these committees, the task force established action items that either could be accomplished immediately or were ongoing yearly requirements about which the committees were required to report to the board of directors. As an example, the task force required the convention committee, which plans the annual convention of the organization, to increase the number of women and minority speakers at the convention, include a minimum of two hours of ethics training on issues of diversity (two hours of ethics training are required annually of every lawyer in the state), establish a process of eliminating offensive, discriminatory comments by convention speakers, and report to the board on the results of the committee’s efforts. As another example, the task force required the seminar committee to increase the number of women and minority speakers at seminars, develop a list of minority and women speakers who could be called upon to speak, track the number of women and minority speakers at the seminars on a yearly basis, review the effectiveness of the process of eliminating offensive discriminatory speech by presenters, and report to the board on the results of the committee’s efforts.

The response to the task force’s recommendations was extremely positive and the recommendations were quickly implemented. The success of the task force and the organization’s commitment however is best measured by the fact that the task force’s recommendations are the ongoing road map by which the organization still functions. Recently, the incoming president of the organization, Jack Connelly Jr., submitted his 15-page report to the board of directors detailing how each of the committees had worked to further the diversity goals of the organization. He was proud to report that 35% of the board of directors is women and 10% of the board is minority lawyers (according to the state bar surveys in 2000, 35% of the lawyers in the state are women and 8% are minorities). The organization has more work to do but it has demonstrated its commitment to diversity and has a clear plan to achieve it.

Janet L. Rice
Schroeter, Goldmark & Bender

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