Diversifying Bar Affiliates Through Converging Memberships
By Natalie Holder-Winfield
Natalie Holder-Winfield is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and is a diversity consultant for QUEST Educational Initiatives, a consulting firm that provides diversity and skills development training to law firms, bar associations, and law schools.
Everywhere you look, corporations are partnering to maximize their growth and profits like never before. AT&T and Apple, technology leaders in telephone and computer technology, recently launched 2007’s most anticipated creation: the iPhone. This is just one example of how technology leaders are collaborating with experts in various fields to develop today’s most successful and useful products. Corporate America’s converging technology practices offer an effective business model for diversifying bar membership today.
Bar associations such as the National Bar Association (NBA), the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA), and the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association (NLGLA) have developed rich relationships with majority bar associations that have resulted in increased financial and administrative resources and relationships for all involved. D’Arcy Kemnitz, who is the executive director of the NLGLA, has developed strategies for increasing her membership’s exposure to the American Bar Association while providing diversified programming to the ABA. “Since 1993, we have co-hosted an award called the Allies for Justice Award with Individual Rights and Responsibilities. Last year, we co-sponsored the AIDS Coordinating Committee when it joined with the ABA Young Lawyers Division for the HIV/AIDS Law and Practice 2006 Conference. And we helped with the Call for Action. Now this year, NLGLA contributed to the YLD’s Spring Conference. Making this contribution was good for NLGLA because it was a chance for us to reach out to people who may have an interest in NLGLA.”
NLGLA’s expertise with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues is especially invaluable to the legal profession. “NLGLA’s lawyers are working on a specific set of issues,” Kemnitz explained. “As laws continue to change, particularly family law, we are going to have more straight allies working on these issues. We are the experts who have been working on these issues the last couple of decades. It is an opportunity for us to help improve the quality of services within the profession as we provide peer networking for people who are now working on these issues. We do a lot of crossover because we are motivated by sharing information and providing better opportunities to extremely busy legal professionals. We have about 4,500 people on our distribution list. Recently, an ABA committee wanted to contact a black openly gay woman attorney. Because of my network, I could provide that.”
Taa Grays, the Region 2 director of the National Bar Association, a bar association with a majority African-American membership, has had similar success with pooling her resources. “We co-sponsored an event with the New York State Bar Association’s Book Committee featuring Professor Ogletree’s All Deliberate Speed. There was good representation from all sides. It was a show of support for Professor Ogletree, whose book focused on the racial implications of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. It makes sense that we share the issues raised by Professor Ogletree with the majority because they are a part of all of our history.”
Minority bar associations can be instrumental in helping majority bar associations accelerate their diversity efforts. Jimmie Reyna, who serves as the president of the HNBA, strongly believes in minority participation in majority bar associations and vice versa. “We are always eager to let our members know about opportunities to develop and grow professionally and network and develop new business interests. The main benefit to the majority bar is that it exposes a wider group of minority attorneys who may not be involved in the ABA. For instance, the ABA Section of Real Property, Probate, and Trust Law offers a training and certification program. The section reaches out to the HNBA and we can get our members involved in that training session. This program is always sold out. The ABA is able to carry out its mission of training attorneys and raising proficiencies. Through us they can attract members who might not be initially interested in the ABA,” he explained.
As president of the District of Columbia Bar, Melvin White is already committed to working with minority bar associations. “Supporting mentoring opportunities is one such way that minority and majority bar associations can work together to increase diversity. The DC Bar gains immensely when it is able to support the voluntary bar associations,” he noted.
Although programs and events are an ideal way for majority bar associations to develop relationships with minority bar associations, it is important for majority bar associations to offer leadership opportunities to minority-attorney members. As Grays noted, “Majority bar associations need to cultivate more minorities in their leadership positions. I want to see someone who looks like me in a position of authority in the bar.” Feeling included helped Melvin, the DC Bar’s first openly gay president, ascend within a majority bar association. “I found that when I reached out, there was always someone willing to reach toward me offering support.”
Reyna also agrees that majority-minority bar association relationships must be meaningful. “Karen Mathis attended the full three days of the HNBA convention and during the convention she became a member. When I announced that during our gala, she received a standing ovation. That is reaching out. If [Mathis] calls me to develop a new program for the ABA, I’m there.”
Although minority attorneys make up less than 25% of the legal profession, our collective memberships in bar associations makes us a powerful force and ideal strategic partners. Collaborations between majority and minority bar associations offer opportunities to increase the value of each bar association’s offerings to a broader swath of members. Kemnitz summed up our collective strength best when she said, “We’re small but we’re fabulous.”