The legal community coming together to increase diversity

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Recent events and the rhetoric of this year’s presidential campaign have put a sharp focus on the need to devote more energy to the issues of diversity and inclusion and combating implicit bias.

The urgent need to face these challenges first grabbed me in the aftermath of the shooting in 2012 at the Sandy Hook School located in my hometown. That event dramatically changed my outlook on life and led me to devote more of my personal time working in and learning about some of our most disadvantaged communities.

This has been an important personal learning experience. I have learned about the need to combat distrust and build relationships to overcome the “implicit bias” we all carry with us or have experienced first-hand. I have seen how people and organizations can grow and become more effective by being open to different points of view.

I believe members of the legal profession have a special obligation to take on the task of promoting a more inclusive society, because fundamentally, our profession is dedicated to leveling the playing field and ensuring fairness through justice.

While the legal profession should be the beacon on the hill on these issues, it has been just the opposite.  In 2015, a Washington Post headline read: “Law is the least diverse profession in the nation.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 88 percent of lawyers are white as compared to 81 percent of architects and engineers, 78 percent of accountants, and 72 percent of physicians and surgeons. According to the New York Times, a recent study revealed a 44 percent difference in pay between female law partners and their male counterparts.

As a profession, we should practice what we preach.  How can we administer justice, if our law firms, courts, prosecutors and public defenders, legal aid agencies and bar associations are not representative of the populations we serve?

This is why the Connecticut Bar Association is working hard to implement a recently adopted diversity and inclusion plan. The initiative brings together legal leaders in the state to enhance diversity and inclusion.  As part of facilitating this effort, the CBA is soliciting signatories for a collective pledge reflecting the commitment of Connecticut legal organizations to create more diverse and inclusive environments and for a collaborative plan to achieve this goal. A number of law firms and the City of New Haven have already signed on.  The pledge and plan will be presented at the Inaugural Diversity & Inclusion Summit, to be held today (Oct. 26) at the Quinnipiac University School of Law.

Just as the Sandy Hook incident jolted me toward action at this point in my life, my own family history (my mom and grandparents survived the Holocaust) serves as a reminder of the extremes that can result if we choose to ignore the imperative to embrace diversity and inclusion.

The hatred that leads to the violent acts of a single individual or even an entire nation all have their roots in isolation, exclusion and intolerance for the views of others.

As lawyers in this small state, the members of the Connecticut bar are stepping up to do our part and we urge others to join us. We are taking these steps with the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in mind: “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Monte Frank is an attorney and president of the Connecticut Bar Association.

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