If the profession is to be successful in diversifying the bar, then the volunteer bar associations must take the lead. It is unreasonable for bar associations to sit back and publicly lament the lack of diversity among law firm partnerships or in the judiciary, all the while failing to elect a lawyer of color to lead their organizations.
Having a lawyer of color in leadership helps organizations appeal to new members and provide more inclusive programming and initiatives. In this regard, the Connecticut Bar Association and the New Haven County Bar Association are a tale of two bar associations. While the NHCBA symbolizes the best of times as an organization that has entrusted lawyers of color with its leadership, the CBA continues to represent the worst of times for diversity.
Last month, the CBA released its new officer nominees, and once again, it failed to name a lawyer of color to lead the organization. Never in the CBA’s history, dating back to 1875, has it selected a minority president. The CBA Nominating Committee identifies candidates for five officer positions – president-elect, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and assistant secretary-treasurer. Only the first two positions are track positions with the office holder going on to serve as president of the CBA. Based on the present president-elect and vice president positions, it will be at least another three years before the CBA can be led by a minority lawyer.
To be sure, the CBA has been providing token appointments of minority lawyers to the positions of “treasurer” and “secretary.” Some at the CBA may claim that their placement of minority lawyers in these non-track positions is designed to provide them with the necessary capabilities to be a bar leader. But look at the current CBA leadership. Current president Kim Knox, incoming president Mark Dubois, past-president Barry Hawkins – none of these individuals were required to serve as treasurer or secretary before obtaining the “necessary capabilities” to be a CBA President. Why the double standard?
That there are no qualified minority lawyers is simply not true. There are plenty of minority lawyers with bar association leadership experience who would make outstanding presidents of the CBA.
The affinity bar associations in this state are a wonderful source of these leaders. Each of these organizations is led by volunteer lawyers who operate without the support of a paid executive director or the other resources available to the CBA. If the CBA were truly interested in diversifying its leadership ranks, it need not look very far.
Why should the CBA choose a lawyer of color to be its president? It would broaden the appeal of the organization to individuals who presently perceive that the CBA is not inclusive enough to warrant their membership. Article IV.5.B of the CBA Constitution charges the CBA president with the duty of appointing the chairs of the various sections. Yet, of the 50 individuals who were appointed to serve as either a chair or co-chair of one of the CBA’s 43 sections last year, only one – one out of 50 — was a lawyer of color.
In fairness to the existing CBA president, her predecessors’ track record on minority appointments isn’t any better. But a minority CBA president might change that. A lawyer of color, serving as president of the CBA, might appoint some lawyers of color to be chairs of the CBA sections, which might in turn get more diverse lawyers to participate in the CBA sections. In other words, the election of a lawyer of color as president might create a ripple effect in diversifying the Bar.
While the CBA is failing miserably in its diversity efforts, the New Haven County Bar Association is thriving. Presently, three of the NHCBA’s five officers are lawyers of color. Last year, the NHCBA was led by its first minority president, Sung-Ho Hwang. This year, it is again being led admirably by a minority lawyer, Robert Hinton, and in two years will be again led by an outstanding minority attorney in Victor Bolden.
In recognition of its diversity accomplishments, the New Haven County Bar Association received the 2013 Diversity Award from the Connecticut Asian Pacific American Bar Association. Hwang accepted the award on behalf of the NHCBA and delivered remarks about his personal experiences of being stereotyped and discriminated against, and how hard he has had to work to earn respect as a lawyer. Today he is a leader of the bar. He has earned the trust of his colleagues. He has proven that bar associations can be led admirably by lawyers of color.
By encouraging and supporting minority lawyers to become leaders of the bar, the NHCBA has been able to offer programming, mentoring, and civic projects that have a broader appeal and help change the image of the profession to reflect the diversity in our communities. NHCBA events are attended by lawyers of different backgrounds. There is a welcoming and inclusive feeling in NHCBA programs that is simply lacking in the CBA.
We commend the NHCBA for providing us with the spring of hope in diversifying the bar and electing lawyers of color to be its leader. We hope that the CBA will escape from its winter of despair and address its diversity issues.