Home / Expert Opinion / MCBA President’s Message: Diversity efforts: making progress, trying harder

MCBA President’s Message: Diversity efforts: making progress, trying harder

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Jill M. Cicero

As we all know, February is Black History Month, which makes this the perfect time to draw attention to the MCBA’s ongoing efforts to:

  • Increase the diversity of our membership, MCBA leadership and the local bar in general;
  • Position ourselves to be at the forefront of legal education regarding issues of diversity, inclusion and equality; and
  • Demonstrate our commitment to racial justice, diversity and equality in our community, which enrich us all.

Some of our activities in support of these goals include the following:

  1. We have been particularly active in developing and presenting programs that qualify for the diversity CLE credits that are now required for New York State attorneys. We kicked off the bar year in September 2017 with a program titled “Diversity, Inclusion and Retention: Promoting Equality Within the Legal Profession,” which was very well-attended, even though it was offered before Jan. 1, 2018 and could not be used to satisfy the new diversity CLE requirement. In January, our program titled “Microaggression and Implicit Bias in the Legal Workplace” was sold out, on Feb. 14 we are offering a program titled “Female Success in the Legal Profession,” and on March 28 we will present the program, “Discrimination Without Animus: Advising Your Clients About the Americans with Disabilities Act.” These programs provide at least one diversity credit for CLE purposes and, more importantly, they have or will educate us about the many facets of bias and discrimination and how we can best create an inclusive legal profession.
  2. The deadline has just passed for receipt of applications from first-year law students for the Rochester Legal Diversity Clerkship Program, which is co-sponsored by the MCBA, the Rochester Black Bar Association and the Greater Rochester Association of Women Attorneys. This program, now in its 18th year, seeks to increase diversity in the Rochester legal profession by attracting qualified first-year law students from under-represented groups to work in paid summer positions in private law firms and civil legal service providers for the poor. When these students, many of whom have no prior connection to Rochester, have an opportunity to work in our community and to demonstrate their skills to the many participating firms who are committed to recruiting, retaining and promoting attorneys who contribute to the overall diversity of the legal community in Rochester, there is a greater likelihood that some of these students will receive permanent job offers and will return to Rochester and become part of our legal community. More than 100 students have participated in the program since its inception in the summer of 2005, and approximately 20-25% of those students have returned to Rochester after graduating from law school. The first students in the program were recruited from UB Law School, but applications may be submitted by any first-year law student in any law school. Special recognition goes to Michael Wolford for his vision in creating this program and to Duwaine Bascoe whose extraordinary efforts in support of this program (as well as in his roles as co-chair of the MCBA Diversity Committee and as president of RBBA) have been critical to its continued success.
  3. We are also collaborating with RBBA and GRAWA on the Lawyers Coalition on Racial and Social Justice, which was formed to “address issues of racial justice in Rochester’s legal community and beyond.” Jill Paperno, a past president of GRAWA and former trustee of MCBA, has been instrumental in the creation of the commission, and in directing its ongoing work. Congratulations to GRAWA for receiving the 2017 NYSBA Leaders Innovation Award for small bar associations for its creation of the commission. We are proud to be a part of this initiative.
  4. We are also participating in and supporting the Black Professionals Collaborative, which brings together lawyers, doctors, educators, nurses, police officers and other professionals to exchange information, discuss ways to improve the condition of poor black communities in Rochester and address a wide range of issues affecting the black community. The Collaborative hopes to provide a richer, less isolating experience for lawyers and other professionals who come to Rochester, in the hope that they will make this their permanent home.
  5. On Feb. 15, VLSP will host an event at the Telesca Center honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and recognizing the contributions of African-American attorneys in Monroe County. This event is co-sponsored by the MCBA, the Foundation of the Monroe County Bar and RBBA.

However, despite the efforts outlined above, it has become clear to me that the MCBA has not attracted to its membership, and/or has not retained as part of its membership, many attorneys of color in our community. For various reasons, it appears that the MCBA has not sufficiently welcomed, engaged or convinced attorneys of color that it offers benefits that are worth the cost of membership. I believe this results in a lose-lose situation, both for the MCBA, which does not benefit from the talents and perspectives of these attorneys, and for non-member attorneys of color, who do not receive the many benefits of MCBA membership that I have outlined in previous columns. This situation is a serious concern to me and, as a result, I am planning to meet with a group of non-member attorneys of color to talk about our loss and theirs, and to ask for their input as to how we can make the MCBA their association. If, however, you have ideas or suggestions regarding this topic, please do not hesitate to give me a call or send me an email. I am open to your thoughts about how to improve our association and make membership in it a valuable and richer experience for all of us.

Jill M. Cicero is president of the Monroe County Bar Association and is the managing partner of The Cicero Law Firm LLP. She can be reached at jcicero@thecicerolawfirm.com.

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