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October 07, 2015 Practice Points

New ABA President Brings Renews Focus on Diversity and Inclusion

By Rudy Perrino

This month, the Membership & Diversity Subcommittee has chosen to focus on the innovation of the larger American Bar Association, which has installed the 400,000 lawyer organization’s first chair to be a woman of color, Paulette Brown. According to the ABA, “Brown plans to devote her presidency to serving ABA members and highlighting the value of the association by reaching out to lawyers and communities across the country. She is also organizing And Justice for All: An ABA Day of Service on Oct. 30, to mobilize thousands of lawyers across the country to volunteer their legal services to those living on the economic margins.” Brown also plans to build on the work the ABA has already done in the area of diversity and inclusion through a newly created Commission on Diversity and Inclusion 360. The commission will review and analyze diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, the judicial system, and the American Bar Association with a goal of developing sustainable action plans.”

At a recent event at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, Brown spoke of the need for diversity in the legal profession. According to Brown, 88 percent of the nearly 1.3 million lawyers in the United States are white. "That is totally inconsistent with the demographics of this country," she said. And among the equity partners at law firms around the nation, 17 percent are women and only 1.8 percent are women of color. The diversity gap is even wider in public service, according to Brown, "[s]o there is a lot we have to do to improve diversity and inclusion in the legal profession."

Brown looks forward to “leveraging the power of the nearly 400,000 ABA members to promote full and equal diversity and to end bias in the legal profession and the justice system. If we are true to our calling as lawyers, we must address this issue.” Brown has talked about focusing efforts toward greater diversity on young school children. "We have to disrupt the school to prison pipeline," she said at the Samford University event. "Sixty-five percent of young people think our justice system is unfair." And regarding the Commission on Diversity and Inclusion 360, Brown has stated that the commission is “a new group that will look at diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and judicial system . . . That group will look at building a pipeline to encourage students at an early age to go into the law.”

Brown has set an ambitious agenda for her administration, focused on improving diversity and access to justice. Our subcommittee looks forward to her leadership in the upcoming bar year and will continue to monitor her successes and update our membership as appropriate.

—Rudy Perrino, WFBM, LLP, Los Angeles, CA

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