For those who have not been with the Standing Committee on Minority and Women Participation in the trenches, a great group of lawyers has been working tirelessly on diversifying the legal profession. This manifests itself in statewide workshops with law students on understanding the role of minorities and women as we take on leadership roles in the legal profession and in the ISBA. But as we have been learning in the quest to enhance opportunities for those entering law school and those moving up through the leadership within the ISBA and law firm culture, we are talking about a much expanded definition of diversity. At Southern Illinois University School of Law in Carbondale we presented an incredible array of lawyers talking to law students about their diversity. Farther north, in the oak-lined halls of Jenner & Block, we co-sponsored a workshop on empowering women and minority lawyers to take leadership roles in the ISBA. Both of these efforts are described more fully in articles in this newsletter.
As you read this, there are several high profile initiatives in planning and research phases. ISBA President Joe Bisceglia has created the Task Force on Diversity, chaired by Lynn Grayson of Jenner & Block, which has embarked on gathering data and mapping out sustainable programs and long term goals for diversifying the legal profession and the ISBA. Ms. Grayson’s article in this newsletter tells more about the composition, plans and goals of Task Force on Diversity.
In the Task Force subcommittee on the pipeline to the legal profession, of which I am co-chair, we have been accumulating information about the wealth of existing programs aimed at supporting the legal profession throughout the educational continuum. During the midyear meeting that Task Force subcommittee will continue the arduous task of analyzing existing data and recommending a course of action for the ISBA to ensure the diversity of the profession in the future.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to President Bisceglia for his hard work and continued support toward diversifying the legal profession. Yet, we are only a few steps toward making real tangible and measurable progress in this area. The real statistics about how many minorities make it to law school and to leadership positions as partners in law firms will provide a true measure of how much more work there is to be done. Yet at every turn we see that there is a genuine interest of the traditional powerhouse law firms to invest in diversifying the legal profession, and we are looking for success stories to model and replicate as we go forward.
On a local level, I have forged a burgeoning relationship with Benito Juarez High School in Chicago’s predominantly Mexican neighborhood of Pilsen. They have asked for help with their mock trial program and with assisting their seniors in applying to college. They were kind enough to ask me to be “Principal for a Day” with Maggie Daley, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s wife. We were treated to the rich success of the students’ arts projects for Day of the Dead, their Gallery 37 after-school programs, and a vibrant Chinese language program. In the coming months, expect me to ask for volunteers to help with some of the projects at the school. Sadly, I do not feel that the Hispanic community has increased its numbers in the legal profession, which is so desperately needed in the wake of the immigration debate and the backlash of local laws aimed at immigrants.
I am so proud of the hard work of the Minority and Women Participation Committee and feel there is a refreshing and invigorating sense of camaraderie among us. Of course, we will need a fresh infusion of leadership to carry us through the coming years. So for those who are on the committee and those who read this and are looking for a place to invest some time and get a huge return, the Minority and Women Participation may be your new home if you choose it.