This year’s Task Force on Diversity resulted in large part from the pipeline project initiated by ISBA President Irene Bahr during her term. Current ISBA President Joe Bisceglia established the Task Force to continue the pipeline initiatives and to focus on efforts to further diversity within the ISBA and the Illinois legal profession overall. To that end, President Bisceglia pulled together an amazing group of attorneys that shared his vision of a more diversified legal profession and tasked them to evaluate how best to progress diversity outreach within the Illinois bar. President Bisceglia, in particular, encouraged the Task Force to work on efforts to expand opportunities to get lawyers into Illinois classrooms in order to spend time with students.
To accomplish its mission, the Task Force has been organized into three subcommittees: 1) Diversity Pipeline Project; 2) Illinois Legal Community; and 3) ISBA. Co-chairs have been named to lead the work of each subcommittee as follows:
1. Diversity Pipeline Project: Alice Noble-Allgire, Andy Fox, Tracy Prosser and Venu Gupta.
2. Illinois Legal Community: Sonni Williams and Gwen Rowan
3. ISBA: Patrice Ball-Reed and Deborah Cole
In large part, the work of the Task Force has been conducted by these subcommittees, each with its own mission.
Diversity Pipeline Project
In its report dated March 9, 2007, the Diversity Pipeline Project, initiated by the Standing Committee on Minority and Women Participation, made several recommendations:
1. Appoint a special Diversity Task Force following the lead of the State Bar of California.;
2. Serve as a clearinghouse and coordinator of information;
3. Establish partnerships to implement pipeline programs;
4. Advocate for funding/programs to be carried out by others;
5. Evaluate a means to assess the effectiveness of current and future pipeline programs; and,
6. Identify funding resources needed to support pipeline initiatives.
With these recommendations in mind, the mission of the Diversity Pipeline Project subcommittee is to “support improved educational opportunities for diversity students and encourage all efforts for diversity students to enter the legal profession.”
Illinois Legal Profession
This subcommittee’s mission was to “promote greater diversity within the Illinois legal community including support of the Commission on Professionalism of the Illinois Supreme Court (“Commission”) and overall raise awareness of the critical importance of diversity to the legal profession.” The key task this subcommittee accomplished was the completion of a statewide survey on diversity within the Illinois legal profession. The survey addressed qualitative as well as quantitative information.
This subcommittee’s work was focused on the ISBA as an organization with its overall mission to “increase the participation, leadership and membership ranks of diversity attorneys within the ISBA.” The key task of this subcommittee was to develop a report card on the status of diversity attorneys within the ISBA membership, leadership and programs.
Another critical component of the Task Force was to support the Commission’s work. Working closely with the Commission’s Executive Director, Cheryl Niro, the Task Force was pleased to partner with the Commission and honored to support the Commission’s conclave on professionalism and diversity held on December 6, 2007 in conjunction with the ISBA mid-year meeting in Chicago.
As the bar year comes to a close, we believe that the Task Force has been successful in achieving its mission as indicated by these accomplishments:
1. Conducted the first statewide diversity survey focused on who we are as lawyers and how we feel about our practice;
2. Created the first ISBA report on the status of diverse attorneys within the ISBA;
3. Finalized a pipeline project recommendation for the establishment of a new educational program mentoring diverse students from 6th grade through law school;
4. Recommended creation of a new ISBA diversity award to recognize contributions of Illinois attorneys;
5. Continued efforts to raise awareness of the importance of diversity through the distribution of the second edition of this special newsletter, Diversity Matters, and the placement of important diversity information on the ISBA Web site; and
6. Promoted increased emphasis on the importance of diversity in the Illinois bar through sponsorship and support of such outreach as the Legal Implications of Effective Representation of Unmarried Couples program, Hire Big 10 Diversity in the Law 2008 and the Chicago Bar Association Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges program.
It has been my sincere pleasure to chair the Task Force and to have the opportunity to work with so many talented attorneys to promote greater diversity within the Illinois bar and the ISBA. We hope our combined efforts this year and moving forward will contribute to positive change within the Illinois legal profession.