Goal IX Newsletter

Winter 2001, Volume 7, Number 1

Race and Gender Diversity - Still Hot Topics in the Legal Profession by: Charisse R. Lille, Commission Chair

I recently spoke as a panelist at two continuing legal education courses devoted to issues of diversity in the legal profession. One course was entitled “Race and Gender in the Courtroom: Tips and Tactics to Benefit Your Clients,” and the other, “Achieving Diversity in the Profession.” The Race and Gender seminar focused on strategies Charisse R. Lillie, Commission Chairthat lawyers can employ when they believe that a judge, opposing counsel, or court officer is treating them unequally because of their race or gender. In the Achieving Diversity seminar, I spoke about the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity’s programs that are designed to increase the full and fair participation of minorities in the profession as set forth in ABA’s Goal IX.

At each seminar, there was discussion of the issues of mentoring and role modeling. One judge spoke eloquently of how she has sometimes had to confront issues of race and gender in her courtroom. She spoke movingly of how it is important for the profession to recognize how race and gender affect us in sometimes the subtlest ways. She urged all participants to confront issues of bias that may inform their actions in dealing with diversity in the profession. There were heated discussions about how to structure mentoring programs. Some firms have formal mentoring programs for their minority associates only. Other firms have used the diversity push to take a good, hard look at how they are mentoring all of their associates and decided to institute formal mentoring programs for all associates. Most agreed that these efforts are necessary and worthwhile.

The bottom line is that both of these programs played to capacity crowds, and the interest in diversity as a guiding principle in how the legal profession does its work is growing. The commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession accordingly continues its work in this context. ABA President Martha Barnett has continued to support the work of the Commission in all of her endeavors, and has carried the message of the importance of inclusiveness throughout the country. We are working with the ABA Commission on Women to structure some joint programming because the goals of the two commissions are similar, and we are able to share resources and talent.

 The recent legal battles surrounding the presidential elections resulted in marathon legal wrangling and filing of lawsuits that ultimately led to the chamber of the Supreme Court of the United States. Both sides hired enormously talented lawyers whose ranks were remarkably lacking in diversity (see article on page 4). If we were ever confused about whether much work remains to be done on the diversity front, the constant pictures of the Bush and Gore legal teams in the newspapers and on television were symbolic reminders that this profession can do much better in terms of offering opportunities to racially If we were ever confused about whether much work remains to be done on the diversity front, the constant pictures of the Bush and Gore legal teams were symbolic reminders that this profession can do much better.

The American Bar Association remains committed to increasing diversity in the profession, and a new position has been created in the Office of the President to focus all of the ABA’s various efforts on diversity. The Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity is part of the working group that will be expanding and improving the programs targeting diversity issues currently being sponsored by the ABA.

In terms of the new programs being offered by the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity, we are pleased to announce the inauguration of the Judicial Clerkship Program, which will be held in San Diego at the ABA Midyear meeting in February 2001. This program will bring law students and judges together for a structured networking program that will hopefully result in greater opportunities for minority law students to attain judicial clerkships.

We encourage you to order your copies of the popular book Dear Sisters, Dear Daughters: Words of Wisdom from Multicultural Women Attorneys Who’ve Been There and Done That, if you have not already. This book contains words of encouragement and motivation for any female lawyer who is coping with finding opportunity, success, and fulfillment in the legal profession. We also encourage lawyers to buy a few extra copies of the book so that they can donate the book to the libraries of their local law schools and public library system. These are gems that must be shared with all.

Achieving true diversity in the legal profession is a lofty goal that requires mindfulness on the part of all concerned, in concert with a willingness to create a diversity infrastructure in the legal organization in which each of us works. Working within the ABA and with the national minority bar associations, the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity continues to sponsor a number of publications and activities that have resulted in progress toward our goals. Our newest product, “Raising the Bar: A Complete Multi-Media Program on Diversity and Retention in the Legal Profession,” will soon be released. The Minority Counsel Program is planning a networking and continuing legal education program in Tampa, April 26-27, 2001. The Minority In-House Counsel Program is planning a networking and continuing legal education program in Philadelphia, March 22-25, 2001 (see page 11). Our joint program with the Litigation Section and the Business Law Section, “The National Conference for the Minority Lawyer,” is being planned for Washington, D.C., in June 2001. For current information on Commission activities, visit www.abanet.org/minorities.

As you can see, we are busy, very busy. Please join us in our efforts. The future of the profession depends on a concerted effort in pursuit of opportunity and diversity in the legal profession.