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MCBA President’s Column: The need for greater diversity

Jon P. Getz

Jon P. Getz

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are caught in an escapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever effects one destiny, effects all indirectly.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Through vital funding of the Monroe County Bar Foundation, and the current leadership of Duwaine Bascoe, the Monroe County Bar Association proudly supports and works on maintaining a legal diversity clerkship. During his tenure as MCBA president, Michael Wolford worked on and introduced an excellent idea: to collaborate with various law firms and other legal organizations in our community to work in creating a pipeline of high-quality and diverse first-year law students. As Rochester has no law school, the goal is to show these future lawyers the benefits of working in the Rochester legal community.

As a bar, we need future attorneys to become acquainted with excellent the excellent professional opportunities in our community. Such programs also help these young people learn to be strong advocates once they are admitted to the bar.

The worthy goal of the program is to help diversify our local legal community. As a bar, we need to make sure our legal community is representative of our whole community. As current president, I am proud to say the Monroe County Bar Association continues to advance the objectives of this program and works to make it a positive experience for law clerks and employers. While I am pleased to report on this program to our members, I suggest that we need to do better.

Over the past year, the Monroe County Bar Association has been working towards determining how many people of color and/or individuals who would be classified as diverse attorneys practice in Monroe County. It is believed that the number is less than 100; this is significantly below the national average.

Recently, The New York Law Journal printed an article authored by Don Prophete, a partner at Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete. Mr. Prophete did not mince words:

“Over the last 20 years or so various general counselor organizations or groups have sent letters chastising law firms for their lack of diversity, while expressing a commitment to the diversification of the legal profession. Here’s what happened to law firm diversification since the first letter was first written in the early 2000s. Today, law firm racial diversity has either remained stagnant or has decreased significantly. The latest report on black male lawyers in law firms is alarming. Judging by these numbers, the profession has regressed significantly. No more black males in law firms. The number for Latinos, Asians, and ‘others’ remains dreadfully low as well.”

In January, I had the privilege of witnessing the most recent swearing in of new attorneys at the Fourth Department. Making a casual observation, I suggest that Mr. Prophete’s statement holds strikingly true in our community. Our profession must diversify. We must do so in order to make sure all ideas and backgrounds are part of our legal system that is vital to our society’s success. We must do so, as we are all in the same boat.

Over the years, the Rochester Legal Diversity Clerkship Program had demonstrated its success. Through the work that has been done, I am glad to note that, from the data we obtained, approximately 13% of the individuals who have participated in the Diversity Clerkship Program are practicing law in our community. When comparing this number to the number of attorneys who qualify as diverse within our community as whole, the program has been successful.

The 2019 applications are being sent in, and employers for the program are preparing to make their decisions on Feb. 23 for the current summer class. As president of MCBA, I look forward to meeting these clerks. I also wish to thank the following employers for committing to this program: Barkley Damon, Harris Beach, Nixon Peabody, Woods Oviatt, Constellation Brands, Kodak, The Wolford Law Firm, Pollano and Farrow LLP, Volunteer Lawyer Services Project (VLSP), and Disability Rights New York. It is our hope that in 2020 there will be even more employers for this important program.

As we continue to assess this program, we recognize more needs to be done. The MCBA Diversity Committee has been working in developing ideas and plans to start better pipelines with this program in order to work towards greater diversification of our profession within our community.

It is also important to understand the concerns of our employers participating in this clerkship program. These concerns must also be addressed. MCBA is working hard to collaborate with employers to determine their needs for turning these first-year law clerks into future partners of their firm and/or full-time attorneys in their respective offices while also acknowledging the needs of the law clerks. I personally appreciate the work that members of the diversity committee and the employers to make our profession more reflective of our diverse community. As a service profession, it is important to have a profession that reflects the community we serve.

So, how does the MCBA and stake holders work towards making this happen?

First, the association hopes to recruit many more potential employers in the future to show first year law students and law clerks all of the benefits our region has to offer. These benefits include personal and professional growth opportunities that we have in our legal community.

Second, the committee is working on developing new “pipeline” opportunities through the law schools and, hopefully, bringing that even earlier through educational programs at various colleges and even high school.

Finally, we do what we can to welcome and integrate our future lawyers to the practice of law in our community. While our region competes with many major metropolitan areas, we have many quality of life advantages that need to be communicated to our future leaders.

I look forward to introducing the excellent 2019 recruits who will be coming into our community. I am also hopeful that you will have some time to meet with some (or even all) of them and give them your thoughts about the positives of practicing law in our community.

Jon P. Getz is president of the Monroe County Bar Association and is the partner of Vahey Muldoon Reston Getz LLP. He can be reached at jgetz@vaheygetz.com.

 

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