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On June 23, a quarter century after deciding University of California v. Bakke, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Grutter v. Bollinger and affirmed the principle that diversity is fundamentally important to the educational institutions of this country. Although there were references to the importance of diversity in other institutions such as the military, businesses and the justice system, such references were not the focus of the opinion. Consequently, there has been limited analysis or comment on how this decision will impact other arenas of American society outside the university setting. Reflecting on the language of the majority opinion, it appears that the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision could have positive, wide-ranging benefits for the legal profession and legal organizations like the Defense Research Institute, whose members represent corporations, insurance companies and individuals who by choice or happenstance have become involved in the legal system. If one stops to take stock of the leadership of corporate America, one recognizes that the face of corporate America, like the population of the country itself, is changing. Boardrooms and offices of chief operating officers are more and more frequently filled with women and people of color. The truth of this observation was verified by the participation of numerous corporations as amici curie in the Grutter case. Although the change has been less rapid than some had hoped and others had expected, the change is nonetheless occurring. Along with the change in the complexion of corporate America has come a change in corporate America’s expectations and attitudes. It is no longer sufficient or acceptable for the law firms that represent corporate America and the insurance industry to lack diversity. It is an expectation that law firms representing corporate America will be as diverse as the corporation’s applicant pool and customer base. The means and method by which the law firms that represent corporate America will meet the expectations of their clients is to look to law schools that have embraced the concept of diversity. By its ruling in Grutter, the Supreme Court has effectively paved the way for law firms to meet the expectations of their present and future clients. Changing courtrooms, too However, it is not just corporations, insurance companies and law firms that will benefit from Grutter. Individual defendants will also reap the benefits of the decision. Like the face of America’s businesses, those who sit in judgment-jurists and jurors-are also increasingly more diverse. Thus, the concept of a jury of one’s peers has taken a different meaning over the last 25 years. Twenty-five years ago, it was far more likely than today, in an age where jurors are qualified by virtue of being on voter registration lists and having driver’s licenses, that the jury would be predominantly white and male. Now, the jury is just as likely to be predominantly female and ethnically diverse. To be an effective advocate for clients with a diverse jury, it is essential that those who stand in front of the jury have had the opportunity to break down cross-racial stereotypes. By affirming the right of colleges and universities to consider ethnicity as a factor in admissions policies, the Supreme Court has insured that those who use the judicial system will benefit from truly effective advocacy. As an organization representing 21,000 civil defense trial lawyers, the Defense Research Institute is encouraged by the court’s decision in Grutter. If appropriately implemented, the decision will have the effect of improving the civil justice system by expanding the number of perspectives that will be brought into the courtrooms of America. The diversity encouraged by the decision will have the effect of enhancing the skills and professionalism of those who serve as defense counsel, and, like the classrooms at the University of Michigan, the decision has the potential to make the whole of the civil defense trial bar stronger than the sum of its parts. The decision in Grutter is about much more than the aesthetics of university and law school classrooms. The decision is an affirmation of the importance of differences in all aspects of American life- from the classroom, to the courtroom to the boardroom. Sheryl J. Willert is a member, resident at the Seattle office, of Williams, Kastner & Gibbs, and she serves on the firm’s board of directors. Willert is president of DRI, which represents the interests of lawyers in private practice and in industry.

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