Earlier this week, we were excited to welcome ABA President Paulette Brown to the BBA. She first addressed BBA Council and then served as keynote speaker for our event, Making Strides: Retaining and Promoting Diverse Talent. Read more about that event here.
Brown is the first woman of color to serve as ABA President. She is a labor and employment partner at Locke Lorde, LLP, in Morristown, NJ, and co-chair of the firm-wide Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Prior to becoming president, she held a variety of leadership positions within the ABA. She has been a member of the ABA House of Delegates since 1997 and is a former member of the ABA Board of Governors and its Executive Committee as well as the Governance Commission. She has worked on many committees and events related to diversity and inclusion in the bar and justice system.
The cornerstones of Brown’s presidency are eliminating bias and enhancing diversity and inclusion in the justice system, issues that have long been essential to the BBA’s mission as well. (To see a timeline of our diversity and inclusion efforts, click here.) Despite the best efforts of the bar and law firms, law is less diverse than comparable professions, being 88% white. Brown has been working to develop sustainable action plans to increase diversity and curb implicit bias, including creating legal education programs for judges, district attorneys, and public defenders to increase awareness of these issues. Under her leadership, the ABA also submitted an amicus brief in the second round of the Fisher v. University of Texas case, arguing, much like the BBA’s own brief, that race-conscious admissions policies in higher-education are necessary to assure a pipeline of diverse candidates to law school and into the legal profession.
The centerpiece of her initiative is the Diversity and Inclusion 360 Commission which includes four working groups trying to change the dynamics of the legal profession:
- Implicit Bias – this group is creating training videos and accompanying training manuals for judges, prosecutors, and public defenders about the existence of implicit bias and what to do about it. The video for judges was recently unveiled, featuring judges, law professors, and implicit bias experts. Brown is working on spreading the word to national judges’ groups and associations to encourage its usage by the bench federally and in all 50 states.
- Pipeline Projects – underscoring the “pipeline” argument made in the Fisher case, this group will be examining the larger social picture of diversity throughout the education process as a means of achieving a more diverse bar. It is Co-Chaired by BBA Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts member Dean Martha Minow of Harvard Law School. Three subgroups will look separately at K-12 education, college and pre-law preparation, and law school and bar passage. Brown noted that these subgroups will also examine potential law school pipelines from community colleges and from the military. They will attempt to identify ways to effectively address the barriers facing diverse students at each juncture.
- Diversity and Inclusion Guidelines and Implementation – this group will develop model diversity plans for bar associations and recommendations for state and local bars encouraging mandatory CLE courses on diversity and inclusion. The last piece recently took a major step forward at the ABA’s Midyear Meeting in February, when the House of Delegates engrossed Resolution 107, resolving that all states with mandatory CLE programs should modify their rules to include mandatory diversity and inclusion training. This group will also look at the ABA itself to ensure that the organization is a model nationally for diversity and inclusion procedures and implementation.
- Economic Case – this group will develop methods for increasing economic opportunities for diverse lawyers through training, mentoring, analysis of legal spending, a review of RFP processes, and other tools. One of its goals is to create a uniform measurement tool by which all law firms can evaluate their efforts towards diversity. BBA Council member Mark Roellig, MassMutual, serves as a member of this working group.
We applaud the ABA and President Paulette Brown for all her work on these major issues in today’s practice. Hopefully, under her leadership, the ABA can develop some solutions to the problem of implicit bias and establish a pipeline of diverse individuals to join, and stay in, the legal profession, so that lawyers can more closely reflect the public they serve.
– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association