The Standing Committee on Women and Minority Participation’s 2008-2009 year is off to an exciting start. Our first meeting, held at the Annual Meeting in St. Louis brought a crop of fresh, eager faces to join our tireless veterans of years past. The level of excitement and enthusiasm has spurred our Committee to take on many challenges in the upcoming year. Given our scope, we have been working to recruit more women and minority lawyers to join the ISBA, to become involved in our committees and sections and to run for ISBA office, though a variety of different means.
On October 2, 2008, under the planning efforts of MWP’s Vice-Chair Sonni Williams, ISBA President Jack Carey, Assembly Member Ava George Stewart, and I presented “How to Run for ISBA Office and Get Elected” to the Cook County Bar Association. Despite heady competition from a Vice-Presidential Debate and a baseball game of some import, approximately 20 lawyers turned out to hear our presentation. We were well-received and several lawyers commented on their intention and desire not only to join the ISBA but to run for Assembly.
After our presentation, I was again struck by how mysterious the ISBA and its inner workings can be—not only to non-members, but to members as well. In our own committee meetings, we have had many discussions about procedures and policies as well as the nuts and bolts of how, why and when. Many of the most basic questions have come from lawyers who are experienced in the practice of law, but inexperienced in appointments to the ISBA.
At my very first committee meeting, I, too, was mystified. But my mystification started far before I stepped foot onto the Abbey’s grounds. Until Larry Keshner, Madison County’s representative on the Board of Governors, made a presentation to the Madison County Bar about getting involved and how to start the process, I did not even know where to begin. Once I was appointed, though, it did not seem any less complicated. It took me at least of year of acting like I knew what was happening before I had any real grasp of it. Now, so much of it seems clear and second nature to me. Yet at our June meeting in St. Louis and again at the Cook County Bar, I was reminded that for many people, the organization of this organization can be as clear as mud.
I wonder how much of this uncertainty contributes to the lowered numbers of minority and women lawyers who join the ISBA and who become involved in our great organization. Without mentors who are familiar with what the committees and sections actually do or how to become appointed to a position, I believe many young lawyers, women lawyers and lawyers of color have not become involved. The loss to them is great, but the loss to our organization is greater.
In response, the Minority and Women Participation Committee is unveiling a new feature of our newsletter. In each edition, a “Demystifying the ISBA” column will appear, addressing a different facet of the ISBA that might be confusing, intimidating or murky.
I am humbled to serve as Chair of the MWP Committee this year. The shoes I must fill are large. Under the leadership of Alice Noble Allgire and Andy Fox, this Committee has done great things. I can only hope to carry their legacies forward and fulfill our most noble of intentions: that the ISBA should be composed of a group of lawyers just as diverse as the citizenry of Illinois.