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Many people think that the American Bar Association’s recent selection of Dennis Archer as its next likely president is a major milestone — and Dennis Archer is one of them. The 60-year-old former Detroit mayor (and new chairman of locally based Dickinson Wright) was nominated, without opposition, to the position of president-elect at the ABA’s January meeting. If he’s elected to this warm-up post at the association’s August convention, he’ll become president in August 2003 — the first black leader of an organization that excluded blacks until 1943. “Our bar association, like the Supreme Court of the United States, does not have a proud history as [it] relates to race relations,” Archer admits. In its efforts to keep out blacks, he explains, the ABA would ask potential members to list their race on the application form. Representatives from the association, when they didn’t recognize a name, would visit in person to check on the ethnicity of an applicant. “But everything changes,” Archer says. Lawyers of color have chaired ABA sections for several years now, and “it was just a matter of time” until one rose to the group’s top spot. He’s quick to qualify what he means by “it’s time,” however. “It’s not a just a case of ‘It’s their time, so let’s give it to them,’” Archer explains. He stresses the fact that both he and Robert Grey Jr. — who is in line to become the ABA’s second black president in 2004 — have “impeccable” credentials and are fully qualified for the group’s top spot, irrespective of their race. Archer says of the upcoming election, “I’m delighted not to have any competition, but even if I did, I think I would have the credentials to win.” The ABA won’t be the first bar association that Archer has led. He’s a past president of the National Bar Association, the organization of black lawyers that was founded in 1925 in response to the ABA’s segregation. Archer hopes that his very presence as the ABA’s leader — and his continuing ties to the NBA — will lead black attorneys who have avoided the ABA in the past to give it a second chance. But even though his agenda is now the ABA’s, he maintains that the ethnic bar associations still perform a crucial role: “They’re needed — they need to be strengthened and supported.” Diversity in the legal profession will be one of Archer’s top priorities. Law firms are “far behind the corporate sector” when it comes to minority hiring, he says. Because businesses realized early on that the demographics of their customers were changing, “they became very aggressive in reaching out to vendors of color,” Archer says. The high rate of attrition among minority associates — documented by the National Association for Law Placement, among other groups — is another of Archer’s concerns. “I think NALP’s evaluation is correct,” he says, but points out that lack of diversity isn’t just a problem at law firms. “How many deans of color have we seen in law schools at non�historically black colleges and universities?” Archer remains resolutely optimistic about the future of minorities in the law and in society, however. He notes that more state bars are being headed by lawyers of color like Fred Gray, another former NBA president, who in July will take the reins of the Alabama state bar association. And though there currently are no black or Hispanic governors or U.S. senators, Archer doesn’t expect this situation to last. Winning a statewide race isn’t an obstacle to minorities, he maintains, noting that “if you look at state supreme courts, you’ll see a number of [elected] justices — and chief justices — who are people of color.” And a person of color in the White House? Archer flatly says, “It’s going to happen.”

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