Diversity in the Legal Profession: What does that mean? What can you do about it?

  • By
  • | 12:00 p.m. February 2, 2009
  • | 5 Free Articles Remaining!
  • News
  • Share

In all candor, until I attended the American Bar Association’s Bar Leader’s Institute last year, I thought diversity primarily meant emphasizing equality in race, gender and religion in your firm’s hiring practices. After participating in the ABA diversity break out sessions, my eyes were opened to all the wonderful programs other voluntary bar associations are doing across the country to improve diversity in their firms and in their communities. The JBA By-Laws provide that the President may form and appoint any committees he or she deems necessary. Accordingly, one of my first orders of business was to form a JBA Diversity Committee with the purpose of recognizing, promoting and encouraging diversity in the community and the legal profession. I was not sure what the committee could accomplish during my term, but I wanted to get the ball rolling toward improving diversity in the Jacksonville legal profession.

Arthur Hernandez made the mistake of speaking with me about diversity and was immediately appointed chair of the committee. We quickly decided a diversity symposium in February would be a great start and then brought the idea to the leaders of the other specialty and voluntary bar associations in the area. The JBA diversity committee is proud to have the participation and support of the D.W. Perkins Bar Association, the Hispanic American Bar Association, the Asian American Bar Association, the Jacksonville Women’s Lawyers Association, the Christian Legal Society, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, and Florida Coastal School of Law in planning and co-hosting the symposium.

Knowing that we wanted the first diversity event of its kind in our area to be a success, we enlisted the help of one of the JBA’s most distinguished and honored members, Howard C. Coker. Utilizing his renown art of persuasion, in a matter of days Mr. Coker was able to secure our keynote speaker, moderator, media coverage and many of the panelists for the diversity discussions. Thank you Howard for continuing to serve as one of the great role models and mentors of our profession.

By now you have hopefully seen the fliers and read about the Jacksonville Bar Diversity Symposium to be held Feb. 20 at Florida Coastal School of Law. I implore you to make the time to attend this worthy event. The Symposium will begin with lunch at 12:30. The program will run from 1-4:30 p.m. Our featured diversity speaker is Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente. Justice Pariente has been a tireless advocate for diversity in the legal profession and has given countless talks on this topic. Following her speech, we will show the Florida Bar’s Changing Faces of Justice video on diversity in the legal profession. After a short break, we will then have two separate panel discussions. The first panel will address improving diversity in the community. The second panel will discuss improving diversity in the workplace. Each panel discussion will be followed by a brief question and answer session. The JBA has applied for 4 hours of CLE ethics credits for all attendees. The JBA and our co-hosts are requesting each law firm in the Fourth Judicial Circuit send at least one representative. We can only make a significant difference in this community if everyone is committed to recognizing, encouraging and promoting diversity of all types.

As I was researching topics for the panel discussions and preparing to write this article, I learned that in 2004, then Florida Bar President Miles McGrane III decided to hold the Florida Bar’s first ever Symposium on Diversity in the Legal Profession. The Mission of the participants and panelists in 2004 was:

To develop a number of concrete proposals and recommendations that can be used by the law schools, The Florida Bar, the profession as a whole and those responsible for selecting the judiciary to achieve the goal that the legal profession in the State of Florida, in all of its parts, will accurately reflect the makeup of society within ten years.

With that direction, the first challenge facing them was deciding what the Florida Bar meant by the term diversity. After much lively debate, diversity was defined as “the inclusion of differences that include gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and physical and mental disabilities.” When it comes to participation in voluntary bar associations, the definition of a diverse membership is even broader. From size of firm, to practice areas, to location, to technology, to private and government attorneys, there are many factors that contribute to a diverse membership. However, the Florida Bar’s definition is where we want to focus our efforts towards improving diversity in Northeast Florida.

The Florida Bar’s first diversity symposium produced a Final Report and Recommendations in 2004. There were many suggestions and action items to improve diversity for the Florida Bar, its committees, its leadership and for the judiciary. However, the only recommendation for voluntary bar associations was to implement summer internship programs. I submit to you that our local and specialty bar associations can do much more than that to improve diversity in this community. The 2004 Report noted that the tools to dismantling barriers to diversity are communication, consistency and commitment to change. Please join us at the Jacksonville Bar Diversity Symposium on Feb. 20 to communicate and make a commitment to changing northeast Florida’s legal community into a more diverse membership that better resembles the citizens of our area. If you have any questions or would like to make a reservation, please contact the Jacksonville Bar Association at 399-4486 or log on to our Web site at http://www.jaxbar.org.



Special Offer: $5 for 2 Months!

Your free article limit has been reached this month.
Subscribe now for unlimited digital access to our award-winning business news.