State Bar of Michigan supports pledge of diversity

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal news

On July 23rd, the Board of Commissioners of the State Bar of Michigan (SBM) passed the Michigan Pledge to Achieve Diversity and Inclusion. The Pledge will "be used to further the shared vision of a more diverse and inclusive legal profession," said Gregory P. Conyers, Director of Diversity, SBM.

With the passage of the Pledge, the next steps will be to seek signatories in order to continue building momentum. "The Bar (SBM) is committed to encouraging colleagues to sign onto the Pledge when asked. One of the first steps will be a reception on Thursday, September 30th at the Annual Meeting in Grand Rapids. During the reception, lawyers and others interested can sign on indicating their support of diversity in the profession," said Conyers.

Nationally, the legal profession lags far behind other professions in having diverse membership. The ABA study of racial and ethnic diversity showed that only 10% of lawyers were people of color, much lower than medical doctors (25%), accountants (21%), and college professors (18%).

In Michigan, despite of the rich diversity of our state's population, the numbers are no better. The State Bar of Michigan (SBM) report of 2009-10 shows that, among all the active Michigan resident members who reported race and ethnicity, African Americans, Asian Americans, American Indians, Arab Americans, and Hispanic Latino Americans together made up just 10% of Michigan's lawyers.

The roots of the commitment to diversity can be traced back to the 1986 report of the Michigan Supreme Court's Citizen's Commission to Improve Michigan's Courts. As a result of that study, the Commission recommended that court employment and court-assigned duties be available to all, and that the racial/ethnic composition of courts' staffs reflect as soon as possible the composition of the community.

The next step came in 1989, with the Final Reports of the Michigan Supreme Court's task force, which concluded that citizens and lawyers alike believed that bias affects justice. The report contained 67 recommendations to eliminate bias and discrimination. In 1998, the final report of the task force contained concrete recommendations about how to improve the diversity of the profession. In 2003, the State Bar created the Committee on Justice Initiatives and formed the Equal Access Initiative to continue to address these issues.

This summer the SBM held three Diversity Project Colloquia at law schools across the state, the final one being at MSU College of Law on June 28th. From these efforts came the final drafting of the Pledge passed by Board of Commissioners.

The SBM plans to obtain signatories in support of the Pledge, will identify best practices, will develop an action plan to assist its members in achieving and maintaining diversity and inclusion and will evaluate its progress after one year.

Published: Thu, Aug 12, 2010