August 07, 2016

ABA Medal recipient Dennis Archer urges legal profession to continue to promote diversity

After American Bar Association President Paulette Brown listed the accomplishments of the 2016 ABA Medal recipient, Dennis Archer, which included being chief justice of Michigan, mayor of Detroit, president of the ABA, president of the National Bar Association, president of the Michigan Bar Association, president of the Wolverine Bar Association, president of the National Conference of Mayors and president of the National League of Cities, she joked, “so my question is this: Dennis, is there any organization you have not you been president of?”

2016 ABA Medal recipient Dennis Archer addressed the Annual Meeting General Assembly.


The award was given at the General Assembly held Aug. 7 at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

Noting that Thurgood Marshall, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor had all received the ABA Medal, Brown said Archer used to wonder if he would ever deserve to be in their company.

She told her “wise and encouraging mentor” of more than 30 years to wonder no more: “You are exactly who this award was created for.”

Despite Archer’s many accomplishments, Brown said, “his real genius is his embrace of diversity and inclusion,”and said that upon hearing he was to receive the medal, Archer “wanted to use this opportunity to help others; he wanted to know what type of scholarship he could start through the ABA.”

In accepting the award, Archer recalled that he attended his first ABA Annual Meeting in 1972 in San Francisco, and that at the Annual Meeting in San Francisco in 2003 he became the association’s first African-American president. And now, he said, “we’re back.”

Archer said that while studying in law school he was in awe of how lawyers could help their clients, could challenge laws that were unjust and could cause products to be made safer. In his own practice, he said, he learned that “lawyers have the power to heal.”

At that first Annual Meeting he attended in 1972, Archer said, the ABA was making a push to diversify. The association has done much since then to open doors for lawyers of color, women lawyers, disabled lawyers and LGBT lawyers, but he said there was still work to be done.

He noted that since the recession of 2008 there has been a large decrease in lawyers of color at large law firms, and he lauded the efforts of President Brown’s Diversity & Inclusion 360 Commission. He urged the House of Delegates to pass Resolution113, which asks providers of legal services to expand and create opportunities at all levels of responsibility for diverse attorneys.

“Diversity is not just the right thing to do,”Archer said. “It is now a business imperative if we want America to continue to be economically successful.”