Spotlight on the Hispanic National Bar Association
By Josiah J. Puder
Josiah J. Puder is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and Vice-President and General Manager of Melt, Inc., a public company headquatered in Southern California.
Boasting a membership of over 33,000 attorneys, judges, law professors, law school students, and other legal professionals, the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) is a force to be reckoned with among national legal associations. Founded in 1972, the HNBA has steadily grown over the years and has become the premier national voice for Hispanics within the legal profession.
While the HNBA is involved in many of the most newsworthy issues affecting the Hispanic community, such as its recent opposition to the portrayal of Hispanic soldiers during World War II by a PBS documentary, its mainstay goals are to increase professional opportunities for Hispanics in the legal profession and to address issues affecting the Hispanic community at large.
The structure of the HNBA follows the similar “affiliate” structure of many national legal organizations. But, it does not have a “Young Lawyers Division.” National officers are elected by the HNBA’s membership at large, while regional presidents are elected by their respective regional members. Affiliates do not necessarily comprise one state as they can represent a specific group or region that encompasses several states.
In recent years, much of the HNBA’s focus has been on increasing the number of Hispanics seeking to enter the legal profession, on ensuring that judicial appointments are representative of the numerical and political impact Hispanics have in local and larger communities, and on providing a voice in civil rights issues that affect not only Hispanics, but also all minority groups.
The HNBA also enjoys an active and fruitful relationship with the American Bar Association and sends representatives to the ABA’s House of Delegates and the ABA YLD’s Assembly. Its Law Student Division has also partnered with the American Association of Law Schools and the Law School Admissions Council with the aim to increase Hispanic representation in law schools across the country. Like the ABA, the HNBA has a foundation that provides scholarships to Hispanic law students.
Each year, the HNBA holds an annual convention that offers attendees an opportunity to interact with up to a thousand members and includes CLEs, social events, and the opportunity to hear prominent speakers in leadership and motivational roles.
Jaclyn Medina, an Assistant Deputy Public Defender in New Jersey and a member of the HBA-NJ, an HNBA affiliate that received the HNBA’s 2007 Affiliate of the Year award, got involved with the HNBA in law school. Since she became involved, Medina has attended national conventions, participated in the HNBA’s national moot court competition, and taken a prominent role in the HBA-NJ as a trustee. As a young lawyer whose parents emigrated from Cuba, Medina’s desire to serve the community and ensure that a broad spectrum of Hispanic voices is heard is of particular emotional import.
“While Hispanics represent a very large demographic across the United States, their membership in the legal community remains disproportionate. We seek to change that,” Medina says. To that end, Medina has volunteered her time as a panelist at various law schools to “cultivate an interest in the law” among college and high school students. Her involvement in the HBA-NJ has recently led to her being named Chair of the HBA-NJ’s mentorship program and a lecturer at Fairleigh Dickinson University where she teaches negotiation and conflict resolution to diplomats from the United Nations and various consulates as part of a master’s degree program. This summer, Medina will take her skills to England as part of a master’s course dealing with global leadership.
While the HNBA does not have a formal young lawyers division, it has a very strong makeup of younger attorneys in its national and affiliate organizations. In New Jersey, for example, young lawyers represent almost one-third of the trustee membership. In addition, because of its very strong Law Student Division, the HNBA co-opts young lawyers into its organization at a very early stage of their career ensuring that younger lawyers take on responsibility and involvement in the community early on.