While diversity and inclusiveness are not new concepts to the Connecticut Bar Association, newly elected officers of the tightly knit group are lauding recent strides the organization has made, including electing four women officers out of the total seven this year, with women of color assuming the presidential and vice presidential roles.
Like new Connecticut Bar President Karen DeMeola, new vice president, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ndidi Moses, said she believes inclusiveness has made the Nutmeg State’s bar stronger than ever by making all members feel like they’re part of an increasingly broad family. After being recruited to the bar while attending a barbecue, Moses served as treasurer of the association in 2010, and recalled that diversity and inclusion were topics members were discussing back then.
That focus on diversity did not apply to just gender and race, but also age, Moses said. “One of the major issues I noticed the bar really trying to get on top of was technology and being more acceptable to a younger generation that is now really involved in social media and wants quick answers to questions,” she said. “They want to know a lot in a short period of time. They work flexible hours and want flexible terms, and I think the CBA realizes they have to adjust to that.”
A civil rights coordinator at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Haven, Moses said she believes people are “more connected” as members of the Connecticut bar than they might be in such larger markets as New York. “In Connecticut it feels more like a family environment. Everyone knows each other. Their parents or cousins were in the bar, and there’s a longer lineage.”
Moses credited prior boards with working to broaden CBA’s appeal. Contributing to the sense of a growing family are affinity seats on the bar, which offer members of smaller associations such as the Hartford Black Bar Association, and Hispanic, South Asian, Italian and other bar groups to have a governing seat on the Connecticut bar. “This creates a pipeline for diversity in the bar,” Moses said.
While the effort might sound difficult at times for an organization that has been around since 1875, this year’s transition has received praise from top members.
Dana Hrelic, the bar’s new assistant secretary-treasurer and a partner at Horton Dowd Bartschi & Levesque in Hartford, said she’s learned in previous roles that diversity is “critical,” including during her services as an immediate past chairwoman of the bar’s Young Lawyers Section.
“Just as our members are diverse in practice and in background, so should be our programming, our approach and our perspective as we aim to provide value in leading the profession toward a brighter future,” she said. “I am proud of the work that the Association has done to thoughtfully make diversity a cornerstone of all of our initiatives.”
Hrelic said she believes Connecticut “is setting the stage nationally for what a diverse and inclusive bar association should look like.”
Likewise, new Treasurer Vincent Pace, assistant general counsel at Eversource Energy, said he’s noticed positive changes. “Over the past several years, the CBA has made important strides toward becoming more diverse and inclusive,” he said. “In doing so, it has successfully leveraged diverse perspectives to provide more effective services to its members and increase member engagement. Becoming more diverse has made the CBA stronger and more effective.”
With CBA President DeMeola bringing her experience and connections as assistant dean of students at the UConn School of Law, and enjoying a tight relationship with CBA Immediate Past President Monte Frank, members say diversity and inclusion only stand to grow in the coming year. Additional new officers who began their terms July 1 include President-elect Jonathan Shapiro, a partner at Shapiro Law Office in Middletown, and Secretary Alaine C. Doolan, an intellectual property attorney at Hartford’s Robinson & Cole.
The Connecticut Bar Association has more than 70 sections and committees, and produces more than 300 programs each year, including the Connecticut Legal Conference, according to the organization.