The Supreme Judicial Court’s Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being’s Report Summarizing Affinity Bar Town Hall Meetings collects many deeply distressing and sobering accounts about the legal profession and the court system in Massachusetts from lawyers of color and other historically underrepresented lawyers.
These narratives emerge from discussions at Town Hall meetings, organized with the support of the Boston Bar Association’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Section, with each of the seven leading Affinity Bar organizations:
- the Asian American Lawyers Association of Massachusetts,
- the Hispanic National Bar Association, Region I;
- Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys;
- Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association;
- Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys;
- Massachusetts LBGTQ Bar Association; and
- South Asian Bar Association of Greater Boston
The Report describes events that should never take place in our profession and our courts: lawyers assumed to be criminal defendants or interpreters in courtrooms and in security lines; lawyers whose names court officials repeatedly mispronounce; lawyers whose race, ethnicity or gender identity make them targets for mistreatment—to name only a few examples the Report provides. The Report further highlights the legal profession’s continuing failure to create opportunities for the entry, advancement and professional success for underrepresented and historically excluded attorneys. The narratives, episodes and anecdotes compiled in the Report reveal the daily injustices that lawyers of color and other historically underrepresented lawyers continue to endure and the toll that these experiences have on the well-being of lawyers of color and other historically underrepresented lawyers, and on their desire to remain a part of our profession.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to the over 115 lawyers, judges and law students who provided the accounts of their experience in our offices and courts that form the basis of the Report, and the BBA applauds the Standing Committee’s commitment to ensuring that these voices are heard.
We urge every member of the Bar to read the Report. But we must do more than that. We must act on it. Silence is complicity. If we see court officials or lawyers excessively scrutinize the credentials of an attorney of color or not allow an attorney of color access into courtrooms or designated areas, we need to engage, ask if we can help, question the differential treatment, be an ally – we cannot remain silent. If we see court officials or lawyers in our own offices engage in macro or micro aggressions, we cannot remain silent. We must act in solidarity with our fellow lawyers, serve as their allies, and speak up against offenses in a manner that will be, as the Report suggests, “validating, affirming” and that “creates a genuine sense of belonging.” We must be upstanders, not bystanders.
We respect Massachusetts’ leaders’ commitment to increasing the diversity of the bench, including the recent elevation of Associate Justice Kimberly Budd to Chief Justice and the appointment of Justices Dalila Argaez Wendlandt and Serge Georges, Jr., to the SJC, to name but a few. And we recognize that judicial leaders have sought to address issues like implicit bias by conducting training for judges and other court staff and that many lawyers and firms share the commitment to address our profession’s lack of diversity. But we must all recognize, as the Report confirms, that much more work remains.
We urge every member of the Bar to answer the Committee’s call for partnership “…to create genuine, systemic change…” The BBA pledges to continue to expand upon our efforts to provide programming addressing the needs of law students and lawyers from underrepresented and historically excluded groups. We vow to persist in our efforts to address systemic racism and exclusion, which sow mistrust, confusion and misunderstanding among lawyers on topics like the judicial selection process, and the BBA will redouble our efforts to offer educational programs that deliver current and reliable information about how lawyers, including lawyers of color and LBGTQ lawyers, can become judges.
Finally, we amplify the Standing Committee’s challenge:
The Committee believes the burden of change cannot and should not fall on [historically excluded] attorneys and law students themselves, as it has for far too long . . . the burden of supporting and championing this work should fall especially on such colleagues [outside of these groups], and particularly those of us in positions of power and authority.
The BBA embraces that challenge. We pledge to continue to work closely with our members and our affinity bar partners to ensure that the extraordinary challenges underrepresented and historically excluded lawyers face—so dramatically illustrated by the Report—are addressed, day in and day out, as a central part of the BBA’s mission, until they are eliminated.