Strengthening our commitment to diversity
It has been my privilege to serve as the 141st president of the Illinois State Bar Association. I am proud of the great work the association has done to address issues of significance in Illinois’ legal landscape over the past year. I am also proud to lead an organization that values diversity and prioritizes the inclusion of attorneys of all backgrounds, identities, and circumstances at all levels of the organization. As a circuit judge, arbitrator, and trial lawyer whose career has spanned nearly 40 years, I have witnessed first-hand the many changes the profession and association have undergone.
According to the National Association for Law Placement, women and minorities have made small gains in the profession over the past 25 years.1 On a national level, the percentage of law firm partners who are women or minorities and the percentage of associates who are minorities have increased annually between 1993 and 2018. Even more encouraging are studies that show the percentage of minorities enrolled in law school is also on the rise.2 Between 2002 and 2017, the number of openly LGBT lawyers has more than doubled.3
Within our own organization, we are slowly beginning to see the impact of these changes to our legal landscape. Immediate Past President Vincent F. Cornelius was our first African American president. Anna Krolikowksa, who was elected to third vice president this spring, will be installed as our fifth woman president in a few short years, following in the footsteps Paula Holderman, Irene F. Bahr, Cheryl Niro, and Carole Kamin Bellows, who holds the distinction of being the first woman president of any state bar association in the United States.
During my year as president, I was tasked with filling vacancies on the Board of Governors and section councils. In doing so, I first and foremost looked to diversity to help in the creation of a more inclusive association and organization.
ISBA’s Diversity Leadership Council also hosted a very successful Count Me In reception at the 2017 Midyear Meeting in Chicago. Over 200 attorneys came together at this event to connect with one another and celebrate diversity within the profession. We were proud to have such a great turnout.
These upward trending statistics and strides we have made as an organization are representative of the evolution of the industry. But, there is still work to be done. Recent studies show that law is still one of the least diverse professions in the nation.4
Last year, the Illinois Supreme Court updated Supreme Court Rule 794(d) to require all lawyers to complete one hour of mandatory diversity and inclusion continuing legal education as part of their professional responsibility CLE requirements. In doing so, Illinois became the fourth state to require diversity-related CLE, putting us at the forefront of a national movement toward improved inclusion.
A diverse and inclusive profession benefits us all: It reflects the reality we live in, spurs innovation, broadens and challenges our beliefs, and enriches ours discussions. As we move into the next bar year, let us resolve to strengthen our commitment to diversity and inclusion.
ISBA will be hosting the 6th annual Minority Bar CLE Conference in Chicago on June 20-21 at the Chicago Regional Office. This conference is the next great opportunity to learn about key issues, including how in-house and outside counsel can partner to promote diversity, an overview of immigration law issues, the role of the bench and bar in serving diverse litigants, and more. Registration for this event is open on our website.
I look forward to seeing the progress that has yet to come. Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your president.