“We derive great strength from our diversity. To the degree we are not diverse, we are weak. “
~Admiral Michael Mullen, All Hands Call, September 27, 2005
On January 21, 2011 the Illinois State Bar Association’s Board of Governors adopted a Resolution recommending the creation of two additional seats on the Board of Governors to be filled by members reflecting under-represented groups. These additional seats will enable the Board to better reflect the diversity of the practicing bar. The President-Elect, with the advice and consent of the Board members, would appoint the persons to fill the seats. The recommendation must be approved by the ISBA Assembly in order to take effect.
The Board adopted the Resolution in order to further the ongoing goal of enhancing diversity within in the ISBA. The Resolution noted that “the composition of the practicing bar is evolving and the intended purpose of the creation of such seats is to make the Board more reflective of the practicing bar, and the selection criteria for such seats should therefore focus on under-represented Illinois lawyers.” The Resolution explains that it is essential that the program prioritize the “development of the bar leadership skills of those chosen in order to foster the interest of those individuals selected to seek elected ISBA office.”
If passed by the Assembly, two additional Board seats would be created beginning in bar year 2011-12. The seats would be in two-year staggered terms and have no geographic limitations. The ISBA President-Elect would select members who will, in such President-Elect’s discretion, make the composition of the Board more representative of the Illinois practicing bar. However, any persons and groups within the ISBA may recommend to the President-Elect any appropriate candidates to fill such seats. In order to ensure the program’s effectiveness, an interim review will occur after five years.
The Board is the managing body of the ISBA, overseeing its operations and implementing its policies. Currently, the Board consists of 25 members including the President, the last retiring Past President, three Vice Presidents and twenty other members elected from judicial districts circuits throughout the state. Of the 20 additional members, eight members are elected from Cook County, eight members are elected by ISBA members in their respective areas, two members under age 37 are elected from Cook County, and two members under age 37 are elected from the other judicial districts. Apart from the seats designated for younger members, there are currently no seats designated for those of any type of diverse background.
ISBA Second Vice President John Thies explained the benefit to the ISBA by adding the additional seats. “Our members would be better served by a more diverse Board.
At the moment, achieving more BOG diversity is not likely through the normal election process. This may not always be the case, but it is certainly true now. It is the consensus of our leadership that the ISBA’s bylaws should provide for a limited number of BOG seats—outside the usual election process—to accomplish this goal of more diverse representation.”
The Resolution declined to specifically designate seats for “minority” members in favor of designating seats for “under-represented” groups. Thies explained that “the definition of the word ‘minority’ is evolving. As such, it is more useful to speak in terms of our desire to make the Board more reflective of the practicing bar which is a concept which will serve the Association for a longer period of time. Our focus should be on targeting under-represented classifications of Illinois lawyers.”
The ISBA would not be alone in its efforts to enhance diversity within bar association leadership. The Ohio State Bar Association currently has three board seats designated for under-represented groups. The Pennsylvania State Bar Association has two seats similarly designated—specifically one for a racially diverse person and one for a woman. Other state bar associations in Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Washington, and West Virginia also have seats which are intended to cultivate and promote diversity within the leadership of the associations.
The Board should be applauded for its efforts to elevate the issue of diversity over our traditional selection of Board members. The electoral system that we now employ often is a barrier to diverse candidates being elected to the Board. With approximately 30,000 members, we are the largest voluntary statewide organization of lawyers in Illinois. This Resolution advances our association’s goal of inclusion by reflecting the changing face of our profession. The Board’s concrete actions will continue to strengthen our association by allowing us, as an association, to reap the benefits of diverse backgrounds, opinions and ideas for years to come.
The 201-member ISBA Assembly will consider the Resolution on June 18, 2011 during the ISBA’s 135th Annual Meeting at the Abbey in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. ■