The newsletter of the ISBA’s Diversity Leadership Council
Reflections of incoming President John E. Thies
In 1977, Carole Kamin Bellows was sworn in as the 101st president of the Illinois State Bar Association. Readers of this newsletter most certainly know that Carole (now Judge) Bellows is the ISBA’s first woman president. Indeed, she was the first woman president of a state bar association in the United States. It is fair to say that a certain amount of the progress the ISBA has made in the area of diversity during the period since can be traced to Carole’s presidency (or at least was inspired by what it represented). At a minimum, Carole has been a role model for many more than the two women presidents who have followed her (Cheryl Niro and Irene F. Bahr) and president-elect, Paula H. Holderman.
Another “first” of significance perhaps only to me is that Carole Bellows is the first ISBA president I knew well—I met her in my parents’ living room as a teenager who never imagined that 35 years later, I would follow in her footsteps. The Bellows family occasionally broke bread with our family back in the 70s—a time when Carole and my father (Richard Thies) served together on the ISBA Board of Governors, and the children of the two families overlapped in age. During those years, I was aware of her office, but less so of the significance of her presidency within the history of our Association. I appreciate this so much more today.
On the commencement of my ISBA presidency, I want to congratulate Carole Bellows and all of the other ISBA trailblazers who have done so much to make our Association more reflective of the profession. By the way, this list most certainly includes my father, who—when he was ISBA president in 1986-1987—created a Special Committee on Women and Minority Participation (n/k/a the Standing Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law). He also made a concerted effort to diversify our standing committees and section councils (as all our leaders now do).
Other important milestones for our Association over the last 35 years in the area of inclusiveness have included the creation and work of: Task Forces on Gender Bias in the Courts, and Diversity; Standing Committees on Women and the Law, Disability Law, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; Section Councils on Human Rights, International Law and Immigration; the Diversity Leadership Council; the Diversity Pipeline; and, the Law and Leadership Institute. We have also developed the Diversity Leadership Award and the Diversity Fellows Program, and sponsored diversity related Continuing Legal Education seminars. Most recently, we created two “at large” positions on our Board of Governors to allow our president-elects to select (with the advice and consent of the Board) individuals who—for two-year terms—will help the board better reflect our membership. This is just to name a few of the initiatives and activities showing the ISBA’s leadership in the area of inclusiveness (and there are numerous others)!
Despite this history, we should not rest on the past achievements of our Association – but rather, see them as a solid foundation for further introspection and a continued discussion as to what it means to be an equal opportunity profession within the context of the preservation of its core values and ethical standards. First and foremost, it is these values and standards that need to be embraced.
As our profession faces the challenges of our day—and there are many, let us always see the benefits of inclusiveness through the lens of lawyers and judges seeking to advance the administration of justice and the rule of law, always upholding the highest standards of ethics, competence and commitment to client service. Alone, inclusiveness doesn’t guarantee that we will meet these paramount standards, but it is a very important part in the process of doing so.
I salute our past leaders who—like Carole Bellows—had vision about the great things we could become—together. For those of us who have the honor of being leaders of our Association today—especially the members of our Board of Governors, Assembly, Standing Committees, Section Councils and other committees, we should redouble our efforts to jealously guard our independence and commitment to professionalism. We should also do this within the context of inclusiveness. ■