Lend your voice to effort to eradicate bias, prejudice

October 28, 2016
President’s Message By Melaine Shannon Rothey

Diversity, inclusion, and the elimination of bias in our profession – seems like it should be a simple undertaking. However, much to my dismay, it has proven to be a rather arduous task, even in light of the fact that one of the stated goals in our mission statement is the promotion of equality and diversity among our members. 

Studies and surveys across Pennsylvania continue to document the low number of minority attorneys employed in our state, along with enduring gender bias against women lawyers, who, in recurring instances, are being paid lower salaries than their male counterparts. I see some of you looking skeptical and shaking your heads. Instead of doing so, I recommend that you look around your office – whether it be in the private sector, the public sector or the corporate sector – and count how many of your colleagues are African American or Hispanic or Asian or gay or disabled or, dare I say, women. I suspect that your skepticism will be met by reality. 

At the Sept. 6 Board of Governors meeting, former ACBA President Kim Brown and former WLD Chair Chris Miller, both speaking on behalf of the Women in the Law Division, requested that the board adopt resolution proposed by the WLD. The Resolution provides for the modification of the Pennsylvania CLE rules to include separate mandatory credit programs that address diversity, inclusion, and the elimination of bias in the legal profession with respect to all people “regardless of race, color, creed, ethnicity, national origin, sex (gender), sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, genetic information, mental or physical disability, familial status, veteran status or age.” To address the anticipated negative reaction to increasing the number of mandatory credits required on a yearly basis, the resolution does not propose to increase the number of mandatory credits currently required; rather, it proposes that a minimum of one of the required 12 CLE credits be dedicated to this type of program. With only positive discussion, the board unanimously adopted the resolution and it was sent directly to Chief Justice Saylor – with copies to the other Supreme Court justices and the chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education Board – via a letter from me dated Sept. 12. 

Quite frankly, passing this resolution was truly a “no brainer,” as far as I’m concerned. As the ACBA has been in the forefront in establishing the Institute for Gender Equality, hiring a Director of Diversity and Gender Equality and forming the Diversity Collaborative Committee, it is imperative that we take a leadership role to make this resolution become reality in Pennsylvania. All members of our profession across this commonwealth must be educated on the presence of bias and the impact that it has on those who experience it on a regular basis. We cannot turn our heads and let someone else worry about this issue. It is our responsibility to make sure that the topics of diversity, inclusion and elimination of bias be the subjects of continuing legal education. 

How can the almost 6,000 members of this association assist the Board of Governors and WLD in making this “no brainer” – which has already been adopted by California and Minnesota – happen? You can do what I have done and send a personal letter to each of the justices of our Supreme Court, along with members of the Continuing Legal Education Board. The more letters that are received by the members of the court and the board, the more they will believe that we are serious about the need for statewide education on diversity issues. 

As was so aptly expressed by Kim and Chris during their presentation to the Board of Governors, the need for mandatory diversity, inclusion, anti-bias (collectively known as DIA) CLE is very timely in light of the resignation of two Supreme Court justices in the last several months due to their transmission of email messages to other judges and lawyers that were demeaning to women, minorities, the LGBT community, immigrants, Muslims and people with disabilities.

While it’s highly unlikely that the total eradication of bias and prejudice will be accomplished in my lifetime or the lifetimes of my children or my grandchildren, that does not mean that we should not take this important step forward to attempt to eliminate it from our own backyard and our own profession by educating our friends, colleagues and judges. So, please grab your computer, your iPad, your tablet or your Dictaphone and draft a letter, in your own words, to our justices and implore them to adopt the ACBA resolution as an amendment to our CLE requirements. 

Again, when I am in charge of the world…