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Posted by: Gail Ashworth on Jan 27, 2010

Journal Issue Date: Feb 2010

Journal Name: February 2010 - Vol. 46, No. 2

Diversity in the Profession

One of the most frequent and welcome comments I have heard during my term as president of the TBA from lawyers, judges, professors, journalists and others who are interested in the law is the fact that Tennessee currently has a female state bar association president (I am the fourth after Pam Reeves, Katie Edge and Marcy Eason), the first female chief justice of the Supreme Court (Chief Justice Janice Holder), a female majority on the Supreme Court (Chief Justice Holder, Justice Connie Clark and Justice Sharon Lee) and the first female chair of the Tennessee Judicial Conference (Chancellor Carol McCoy). These facts alone are very positive and certainly help the cause of diversity in our state from a gender perspective.

However, the Bench, the Bar and the profession of law in Tennessee all struggle with achieving greater racial and ethnic diversity. The organized bar in Tennessee, through the efforts of many bar groups in addition to the TBA, establishes committees, task forces and working groups, holds summits and minority job fairs, runs programs in primary and secondary schools, creates mentoring programs, hosts summer internship programs for high school students, conducts Mock Trial events, establishes Teen Courts, promotes judicial internships, establishes awards, scholarships and leadership programs, and still carries out many, many more initiatives designed in whole or in part to increase diversity in the profession. These efforts are ongoing.

One of the newer efforts to promote diversity in our profession occurs at the TBA Annual Convention. The TBA meets with other statewide specialty bar associations at the Annual Convention in June each year to provide an opportunity for all lawyers to come together for social, educational, governance and honorary purposes. TLAW (Tennessee Lawyers Association for Women), TABL (Tennessee Alliance for Black Lawyers) and TAPABA (Tennessee Asian Pacific American Bar Association) hold their annual meetings with the TBA each year. Since this tradition began just a few years ago, we have all benefited from the unique opportunity to be together at the same time and in the same place. The leaders of these statewide groups work together throughout the year, but this is a small group, and expanding the collaboration to a joint annual meeting at the same time and place each year has resulted in not only greater diversity but greater opportunities and economics for everyone.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s 81st birthday in February, begin the second year of President Obama's historic term as the first African-American president and reflect on the recent appointment of the first female Hispanic U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, we consider not only how far we have come in achieving greater diversity but how far we have to go.

"A diverse bar association, a diverse judiciary, diverse law firms and diverse law schools make our profession stronger," TBA Past President Buck Lewis has said.

I believe we are also better.