Louisiana State Bar Association’s Conclave on Diversity
By Michele Hyndman
Michele Hyndman is an Assistant Editor of The Affiliate and practices in the Washington, D.C., office of Ernst & Young.
The American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD) is extremely supportive in assisting local bar associations with all types of programs for the professional development of attorneys, including diversity programs. Diversity programs are a sign of the times. Such programs bring together different people from all walks of life in a setting that encourages discussion on difficult multi-cultural issues affecting all attorneys. In addition, diversity programs provide ongoing career development and advancement opportunities to minority professionals that they might not otherwise receive from their employers. The Louisiana State Bar Association (LSBA) is an example of a local bar association providing effective diversity programs for its members.
On March 13, 2009, LSBA held its Second Annual Conclave on Diversity in the Legal Profession in New Orleans. The Conclave was held to encourage discussion among judges and attorneys about the importance of diversity within the legal profession and how to improve diversity within the profession in Louisiana.
ABA YLD Assistance
The ABA YLD had a large hand in developing the LSBA’s First Annual Conclave on Diversity in the Legal Profession, which was held last year in New Orleans. The concept of developing the Conclave was initiated by Chauntis Jenkins and her fellow LSBA members. Jenkins, ABA YLD Assembly Speaker and a partner at Porteous, Hainkel & Johnson, LLP, came up with the idea of initiating the Conclave after she attended last year’s ABA YLD Diversity Summit in Washington, D.C. Her experience at the Diversity Summit was so inspirational that she wanted to bring her experience back to Louisiana by developing a diversity program through the LSBA. Jenkins contacted members of the ABA YLD who were instrumental in putting together the Diversity Summit to request their assistance in developing the Conclave. The ABA YLD was very supportive in assisting the LSBA with the diversity program initiative and was extremely helpful in sharing its resources, reports Jenkins. Because of the ABA YLD’s assistance, Jenkins’ drive, and her fellow LSBA members, the annual Conclave was launched in 2008.
The Conclave
The Second Annual Conclave on Diversity was attended by various members of the LSBA, including judges, government attorneys, private practitioners, sole practitioners, and representatives from all four Louisiana state law schools. The Conclave was made up of various sessions and a half-day diversity forum.
The first session, entitled “The Silent Saboteur: Micro Inequities That Can Break an Organization,” focused on the impact that individual differences have on the workplace. Specifically, the session focused on how the actions of people from different backgrounds and the ways in which they make decisions affect the perceptions, assumptions, biases, values, and stereotypes of others (co-workers and clients). The session also discussed how understanding diversity creates a more comfortable work environment and helps employees respect each other.
The second session consisted of a workshop facilitated by Michael Brandwein, a speaker who impressed Jenkins at the Diversity Summit. Brandwein, along with judges and attorneys, led participants in exploring possible solutions to a host of diversity issues, including race, gender, cultural, and generational issues. The workshop included applying those solutions to experiences using real-life scenarios submitted by Louisiana attorneys.
The third session involved the impact of diversity issues on jury selection in our constantly changing society based on Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), a case in which the Supreme Court ruled that a prosecutor may not use peremptory challenge to exclude jurors based solely on their race. The session included a panel of judges and attorneys that addressed the ethical implications regarding improper use of peremptory challenges as well as jury selection and client issues that underscore why legal offices are impacted by diversity issues.
The last session of the day-long Conclave focused on how diversity practices impact a client’s business. In this session a panel of business owners and in-house counsel discussed the approaches they use in selecting law firms to represent their businesses and how diversity issues affect those decisions.
A half-day diversity forum was also held in conjunction with the Conclave, in which business owners, human resource directors, and office managers were invited to attend. The forum featured prominent national speakers and Louisiana attorneys who discussed the advantages of diversifying businesses, how diverse groups create wealth and jobs in America, and what diversity issues should be considered when choosing a lawyer.
Participants from both diversity programs were able to socialize with the speakers and other participants during a networking reception immediately following the Conclave.
Contact the ABA YLD
The ABA YLD has been setting precedents and influencing local bar associations with innovative and creative diversity programs. The Conclave was extremely successful and is a great example of how the ABA YLD inspires members of local bar associations to create effective and diverse initiatives for the professional development of minority attorneys. If your local bar association is interested in organizing a diversity program and needs assistance or resources in developing the program, please contact an ABA YLD staff member at yld@americanbar.org .