The Rich Tapestry of Diversity

By Joan M. Burda

Joan M. Burda is a member of the GPSolo Editorial Board and is this month’s Issue Editor. She operates a solo practice in Lakewood, Ohio, and may be reached at

What is diversity? Unlikeness, difference, dissimilarities, contrast, antithesis, disparity, inconsistency, inequality, deviation, dissent, variance, dissidence, contrariety, nonuniformity, heterogeneity, and medley are all synonyms for diversity.

There is diversity in gender, race, sexual orientation; culture, geography, language; people, places, and things. People are diverse in their taste in food; some like Italian while others crave Mexican. Is there a difference between Hispanic and Latino? In some cultures, it is considered impolite to look another person in the eye. In American culture, failure to maintain eye contact leads some to question the person’s truthfulness.

Diversity in language can also lead to misunderstanding and mistrust. The same word can mean different things within a given language depending on the region or dialect. Accents lend themselves to varied interpretations. Many Americans hear a Southern accent and wonder about the speaker’s intelligence. A New England accent can result in the speaker’s being considered a snob.

The United States is a multi-religion country. Many rely on the Judeo-Christian background of the Founding Fathers to define this country, but Judaism and Christianity are not the only religions being practiced here. The different faiths bring new ideas and issues into the vox populi. Yet, religion continues to divide us. We are less accepting of beliefs that differ from our own and eager to condemn those who do not believe as we do.

The American poet Maya Angelou said, “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”

This particular issue of GPSOLO is intended to draw attention to the diversity issues that lawyers face. There is a plethora of bar associations designed to address the diversity within our profession. These groups provide a resource for all of us when faced with clients whose culture, language, or beliefs are different from our own. Sometimes, it is helpful to call on another lawyer to ensure that we do not offend clients because of our ignorance of language or culture. We can also tap into these resources to learn how to expand our practices by reaching out to a local population whose language and culture are different from our own.

The articles in this issue are written with the general practice, solo, and small firm lawyer in mind. We don’t have the resources of a large law firm, but we can seek assistance from sources not normally considered.

Issues of diversity are in the daily news. Some wonder if we should close our borders. Or, are we becoming too diverse? Are we losing our American identity? Just what is the American identity? Some people are threatened by those who speak another language or practice a different religion or don’t look like we do. We hear talk about “those people” coming into the neighborhood. Yet, all of these people are part of the rich tapestry that brought this country to its current place in the world.

As lawyers we have an obligation to transcend petty differences that appear to separate us and look instead for what unites us. Our system of justice, our laws, and our courts are designed to treat everyone the same. Yet, all too often, that goal is not met. Many people wonder if you must be white, male, and rich to get justice in this country. Are black, poor males at a distinct disadvantage in the system—especially the criminal justice system?

Lady Justice wears a blindfold. But, is it because she is blind? Or, is she just blind to injustices that seem to permeate American systems at all levels? Prejudices run rampant in American society. That is fact, not conjecture. Some white men resent advances made by women and minorities. Yet, white males control the country. Women complain about the continued existence of the “glass ceiling” in employment. Even though women make up a majority of law students, they are a distinct minority in law firm management. Minorities don’t fare any better. Minority women are leaving law firms for other opportunities. Minority men also find advancement difficult. And, why is that? Is it a power thing? Is it racial or gender discrimination? Or, is it just because “that’s the way it’s always been”?

We need to review our individual insecurities when dealing with people who appear different from us. We hope you find the articles in this issue helpful in addressing diversity issues within your practice and your life. After all, Mark Twain had it right: “We are all alike, on the inside.”

Copyright 2007

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