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SAN JOSE � Following on the heels of a successful pro bono campaign, incoming Santa Clara County Bar Association President Christopher Arriola hopes to begin the year riding the wave with another hot-button issue: diversity. “Ever since the census, I’ve been taking a closer look at this � who gets the clerkships, who gets the top jobs,” said Arriola, concluding that the majority of the openings go to white males. Results from the county bar association’s most recent diversity survey in 1998 show that minorities make up a fraction of its membership: 74 percent were white, 3.4 percent were Asian or Latino, less than 1 percent were black and 16 percent chose not to provide ethnicity information. Arriola, a 35-year-old deputy district attorney, wants this to change. He has spent the better part of a year forming a blue-ribbon commission that will use the next 12 months to look at ways to bring more color to South Bay law firms. Julie Emede, Santa Clara’s outgoing bar association president, thinks this is an admirable project that has the potential to open up a constructive dialogue among local attorneys. “Diversity is always an issue,” said Emede, a partner with Schlepphorst & Emede in San Jose. “We have people who are committed to the topic and devoted to the topic.” Arriola’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Diversity in the Legal Profession in Silicon Valley � the first of its kind in Santa Clara County � will give attorneys a platform to air their ideas, Emede said, adding that she thinks bar groups have the ability to instigate change in the community. “It depends on what the president wants to do,” she said. Emede spearheaded a pro bono task force this year that called on area lawyers to beef up pro bono services to at least 60 hours per year. Since the task force’s release, Emede was invited to speak on the matter before the Assembly Judiciary Committee last month. “We’ve had an amazing amount of feedback,” Emede said. Now it’s Arriola’s turn to make a big splash. His diversity commission will hold its first meeting Feb. 28 at Fenwick & West’s Mountain View office. Arriola is hoping the group will come back in October with suggestions about how to close the diversity gap. He pointed to the popular Bay Area Minority Clerkship Program as an example of what he’d like to see. The internship program places first-year minority law students into firms. The commission, now 45 members strong, includes superior court judges, law firm partners, law professors and general counsel of some of the biggest high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, including Intel Corp., Yahoo Inc., Oracle Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. Members from the DA and public defender’s offices have also signed onto the commission. This is “a huge topic,” concedes Bruce Sewell, co-chair of the diversity commission and Intel’s general counsel. So “you have to be realistic about how much this group can do,” he said. “We are not likely to do anything more than pull back the covers.” State Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, the commission’s other co-chair, said he’d like to see the promotion of minorities in big firms. “It makes good business sense. It makes good moral sense,” Moreno said. “I think women have made the most inroads,” but there is still so far to go for other minorities. “Our communities are still so segregated.” The two big areas Sewell said he hopes to make some headway on are recruitment and retention, which will be the focus of one of the diversity commission’s three sub-groups. The other two groups will look at gender discrimination issues and how to get children interested in the legal profession. “Law firms are very behind the curve on that,” said Public Defender Mary Greenwood, who also serves on the commission. Diversifying Silicon Valley’s legal community has been one of Arriola’s personal goals for years. Over the summer, Arriola accused the Santa Clara County DA’s office of not doing enough to promote diversity within the department. In addition, Arriola has long lamented that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has done a poor job of appointing minorities � especially Latinos � to the bench. This is similar to a gripe that Arriola, a former president of La Raza Lawyers of California, had with former Gov. Gray Davis four years ago. In his first two years in office, Davis had named only 12 Latinos to the bench, but after a few months of pressure from La Raza, the Democratic governor tapped 10 more, including Moreno’s Supreme Court nomination. “He really is a persistent mover and shaker,” Moreno said of Arriola. “He’s not embarrassed. He’s not shy. He just moves forward.” Arriola often cites statistics showing the meager percentage of minorities in the legal profession. “You look at the national trend, and it’s bad,” he said. However, Sewell points out, “You need to be a little bit careful with the definition of ‘minority.’” For instance, Sewell said, in some parts of the country, Asians or Middle-Easterners might be considered minorities, but here in the South Bay, that’s not necessarily the case. “We have a very good representation [of them] in our workforce,” Sewell said. But that’s not true with all ethnic groups. And that’s what Arriola wants to spotlight. “The corporate culture is changing,” Arriola said. “Companies are realizing if they want to compete in the diverse market in California and the world, they are going to have to better reflect their customers.” This includes not just the folks on the sales floor but the in-house legal teams as well. Indeed, Wal-Mart took a lead earlier this year when it promised to end or limit its relationship with outside law firms that failed to show an interest in promoting diversity. “When a company like Wal-Mart takes a lead like that, it gets noticed,” Moreno said. “It’s good business practice.” Intel has also been “very involved” in bringing diversity to the office, said Sewell, explaining that the company started a “junior associate exchange program” about six months ago. The program takes rookie minority associates from Intel’s top 10 outside firms and brings them in-house for up to a year of training. Moreno says the legal community should take heed. If diversity is vital in the corporate world, it is doubly so in the nation’s courtrooms, he said. “I think [diversity's] particularly important in the justice system,” Moreno added. Jessica Valenzuela Santamaria, an associate with Cooley Godward in Palo Alto and chair of the Santa Clara bar’s minority access committee, is starting her fourth year in the legal profession. And she has already felt the diversity gap in courtrooms she’s been in. “It’s a very homogeneous group of people” in court, she says. They are usually all “old and young white males.” Santamaria sees Arriola’s diversity commission as a chance to give “a voice” to all minority groups.

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