So, you passed the bar. Congratulations! You may be among the lucky ones to have landed a great job, or perhaps you are still looking for the right fit. You may have even joined a bar association or two, like the Pennsylvania Bar Association or Philadelphia Bar Association. But you may also be wondering whether you should spend your time — which seems to be in short supply these days — getting involved with an affinity bar association as well. Membership in an affinity bar association may be worthwhile — and for more reasons than you might think.
While there are several affinity bar associations, this article provides an overview of three of the largest in our area: the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania (APABA-PA), the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia and the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania (HBA-PA).
The Asian Pacific American Bar Association
The APABA-PA is a nonprofit organization that serves a wide network of Asian Pacific American (APA) attorneys admitted or practicing in Pennsylvania, Northern Delaware and Southern New Jersey. The APABA-PA is dedicated to the advancement of its members, the mentorship of area APA law students, and serving the Asian Pacific American community. The APABA-PA is an affiliate of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.
In 1984, 10 lawyers organized the Asian American Bar Association of the Delaware Valley to provide a legal resource in the underserved APA communities and a voice for APA attorneys in the organized bar and judiciary. Now grown to hundreds of members and renamed to reflect its broader geographic footprint, the APABA-PA continues its mission to provide support to the APA community, ensuring that APA attorneys have a voice in the larger bar associations and the government and providing support for development at every stage of an attorney’s career.
Through its community outreach committee, the APABA-PA is very active in serving the community. The committee has long provided free legal seminars of interest to local APA communities, including personal injury, wills and estate planning, family law, immigration, small business law and criminal law. The committee is the active helping hand of the APABA-PA. For example, in 2012 alone, the committee was active in several high-profile issues:
• In response to an alarming trend of home invasions against APA business owners, it conducted outreach and community presentations to APA business owners regarding these crimes and steps they can take to help prevent them.
• Continuing its efforts to address issues at South Philadelphia High School that culminated in a student strike in 2009, the APABA-PA participated in a joint training initiative on harassment and bullying with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and the School District of Philadelphia.
• Partnering with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the APABA-PA was an active participant in the Voter ID Coalition in response to the 2012 Pennsylvania voter ID law. It prepared pamphlets translated into five Asian languages, offered workshops in Chinatown, conducted a voter registration drive and filed an amicus curiae brief in the legal action challenging the implementation of the law.
The APABA-PA sponsors the Judge William M. Marutani Fellowship, which serves to honor the legacy of the first Asian-American judge in Pennsylvania. The fellowship is offered to APA law students at area law schools and provides a stipend to enable the students to take a summer internship position with a public interest organization or a government agency in the Greater Philadelphia area, with the purpose of providing APA law students with a greater opportunity to gain full-time employment in areas of law in which APA attorneys are currently underrepresented.
Getting to know other members of the APABA-PA is very easy. The organization typically holds one social event per month. Major events include the lunar new year banquet, the summer picnic, the fall law student reception and the annual banquet — a fun-filled, multi-course Chinese banquet that also serves as the primary fundraiser for the Marutani fellowship. In between these events, there are relaxed happy hours, meet-and-greets with local leaders and CLEs. And networking is also important because the APABA-PA regularly promotes the successes of its members and nominates them for recognition and awards.
Hispanic Bar Association
The HBA-PA is a professional organization composed of Latino members of the bar and law students as well as other interested persons in Pennsylvania and the Delaware Valley region. The HBA-PA was founded to provide a forum for Latino and other lawyers who are interested in promoting the social, economic and educational advancement of Latino attorneys, the Latino community and the administration of justice. The HBA-PA is an affiliate of the Hispanic National Bar Association.
The HBA originated in the mid-1970s when the Philadelphia Bar Association recognized the growth of the Spanish-speaking community and its need for quality legal services. Judge Nelson A. Diaz was appointed to chair this committee. Through this committee, Diaz promoted Latino civil rights issues such as ensuring the availability of interpreters in the Pennsylvania courts.
The original membership totaled no more than 15, and in 1983, this group decided to formalize the organization. They drafted and passed the first bylaws that same year, establishing the HBA of Pennsylvania. Today, the HBA-PA has grown and reaches out to more than 300 attorneys in Pennsylvania and the Delaware Valley.
The HBA-PA takes pride in its many notable members, including:
• Former Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro A. Cortés;
• Former Philadelphia City Councilman Angel L. Ortiz;
• Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judges Eduardo C. Robreño, Juan R. Sánchez and Magistrate Judge L. Felipe Restrepo (recently nominated to serve as a district judge);
• Common Pleas Court Judges M. Teresa Sarmina, Nitza I. Quiñones Alejandro (recently nominated to serve as a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania) and Angeles Roca;
• Former Philadelphia City Solicitors Nelson Diaz, Romulo Diaz, Kenneth I. Trujillo and Pedro A. Ramos; and
• Sara Manzano-Diaz, regional administrator for the U.S. General Services Administration’s Mid-Atlantic region.
Many of these distinguished members are the first Latinos to hold their respective positions.
The Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania Legal Education Fund is affiliated with and founded by members of the HBA-PA and supports its educational mission. The HBALEF’s goal is to promote and sponsor the professional and educational development of Latino law students. The HBALEF awards scholarships to law students in Pennsylvania and the Delaware Valley at its annual scholarship reception. In addition to the scholarships, the HBALEF also recognizes exemplary members of the community for their contributions and commitment to the Latino community and the administration of justice. Previous scholarship winners have proceeded to join the HBA-PA and have been active board members.
The HBA-PA seeks to serve its members and the Latino community through various means. The HBA-PA has teamed up with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern Pennsylvania, conducts a law student speed-mentoring event, provides networking opportunities for its members, nominates and supports its members for various awards and recognitions and actively supports the Latino community.
This past year, the HBA-PA became a member of the Latino Subcommittee of the PA Voter Coalition in response to the voter ID law. The HBA-PA teamed up with other Latino organizations and held several voter ID workshops and clinics to educate members of the community as well as to help them obtain valid IDs in order to vote.
The Barristers’ Association
Established in 1950, the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia Inc.’s purpose is to serve the black legal profession and the black community by promoting and fostering professional and practice development and excellence; economic and political empowerment; charitable and community service; and justice and equal opportunity.
The Barristers’ is an affiliate of the National Bar Association, which provides its members with a national network of lawyers and judges throughout the United States. Locally, the Barristers’ membership encompasses a network of approximately 1,000 lawyers and jurists who serve our community in both the private and public sectors.
To promote professional excellence, each year, to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the important contributions he made to American society, the Barristers’ recognizes those attorneys and jurists who have made important contributions to the Philadelphia legal community. This year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast will be January 21 at the Loews Hotel Philadelphia.
To further encourage and support students in their pursuit of excellence, the Barristers’ also hosts an annual scholarship gala that raises money to provide scholarships to black law students at local law schools. At the scholarship gala, we also recognize outstanding legal professionals with the J. Austin Norris, Cecil B. Moore and Honorable A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. awards.
To foster economic empowerment, the Barristers’ hosts a community expungement clinic. In its second year, the clinic attempts to help individuals remove the stigma associated with past arrest that may be removed by the expungement process. For those that qualify for free legal services, the Barristers’ helps clean up their arrest records so that they may obtain employment, better employment or pursue educational opportunities.
Since the early years of its establishment, the Barristers’ has recognized the need, and its obligation, to be a proactive advocate for justice. In 1973, Barristers’ members served on the Liacouras Commission, which investigated ways to eliminate racial discrimination in bar admission procedures. In 1978, the Barristers’ joined other concerned groups in filing an action against the Philadelphia Registration Commission, which resulted in the addition of 50,000 Philadelphians to the voter registration pools. In 1983, the Barristers’ provided testimony before the Pennsylvania Legislature on the issue of the merit selection of judges. This past year, the Barristers’ joined the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, which sought to educate voters about the proposed Pennsylvania voter ID requirements.
In the spirit of community service, the Barristers’ sponsors an annual Thanksgiving Drive. Through the benevolence of local law firms, companies and generous membership, it provided Thanksgiving turkey baskets to more than 400 families in Philadelphia.
In addition to these signature events, the Barristers’ provides continuing legal education seminars for members, which give members access to professional development opportunities. We use CLEs as an opportunity for our members to serve as CLE faculty and establish themselves as subject-matter experts. Lastly, the Barristers’ continues to provide a very important role for its members by being a conduit for discussion and dissemination of information of matters of particular interest to black attorneys and the black community at large.
These organizations are not just about promoting diversity in our profession; they also offer new lawyers several opportunities — professional networking, leadership opportunities, community involvement and more. And because the active membership of these associations is smaller than the general bar associations, you can quickly develop meaningful relationships and opportunities in a shorter period of time. •