February 19, 2016
ACBA continues to commit to increasing diversity
By Mark Martini
In 2002, the ACBA Diversity Initiative was first discussed during the Managing Partner Forum. Two years later, the bar association, University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Duquesne University School of Law and more than 40 corporations, government agencies and law firms signed a pledge to contribute leadership and resources to increase the number of diverse lawyers who practice in Allegheny County. Overseeing the effort in recent years has been the association’s director of diversity and gender equality, Alysia Keating, and the bar’s Diversity Collaborative Committee. The DCC serves as the catalyst of the bar’s diversity promotion and attempts to serve as the collective voice and leader of the bar’s diverse affinity groups, which are: the Asian Attorneys Committee, the Committee on Law and Disability, the Hispanic Attorneys Committee, the Homer S. Brown Division, the LGBT Rights Committee, the Women in the Law Division and the Young Lawyers Division Diversity Committee.
Since the initiative began, the casual and formal observer would agree that the association has made progress. Indeed, while looking at many of the leaders in this association or around the room at any given ACBA meeting, an increase in the diversity of our membership is apparent. But at the 10-year mark of the pledge to the Diversity Initiative, there were no concrete numbers to support a finding that we have in fact been successful in increasing the number of diverse attorneys practicing in Allegheny County and belonging to our bar. And from the outside looking in – from a national perspective – Allegheny County is viewed as having one of the least diverse legal communities in the country. While we believe that this statistic is skewed due to the lack of reporting from the law firms in Pittsburgh, it is troubling nonetheless, and we can’t know without hard evidence of what the numbers in our community actually are.
The ACBA Board of Governors and then-President Jim Creenan ventured to learn where have we been, what progress have we made and how we can do better. Accordingly, in November 2014, the board charged the DCC with reviewing the structure of the bar’s diversity efforts and setting short- and long-term goals to further the pledge from 10 years earlier while tracking the success of those efforts.
Keating, DCC members, DCC Chair Hal Coffey and the affinity groups put in many months and countless hours of work in answering the board’s call. This culminated in a comprehensive report being made to the board of governors in October 2015. That report recommended that the bar compile baseline data for diverse and female attorneys, establish a database of diverse attorneys, expand the summer clerkship program to include other affinity group members, fund scholarships to attend conferences and meetings of the ACBA and other organizations and appoint a diverse representative to serve on the Managing Partners Committee.
The DCC report served as a great place to start, but not finish, our continued attempts to increase the number of diverse attorneys in Allegheny County. Accordingly, I am pleased to report that I have appointed an ad hoc committee – co-chaired by Nicola Henry-Taylor and Ron Jones and comprised of a wide brush of representatives from the association – to explore its recommendations and determine which are most appropriate and feasible to implement. The committee already has started its work and will report back to the board in the next few months.
This bar has been committed to promoting diversity for well over a decade now. And regardless of the picture the national statistics may paint – which may or may not be representative of the facts – we have made progress and are committed to being a regional and national leader in making Allegheny County a melting pot that is welcoming and attractive to all attorneys.
Help improve our numbers–
ACBA members can help the association by including demographic information in their member profiles. Providing this information is optional, but doing so will enable the ACBA to evaluate its diversity efforts with more reliable data. You can update your profile by clicking “My Account” on acba.org and then selecting “Update My Information.”