TBA Law Blog

Posted by: Jason Long on Sep 1, 2016

Journal Issue Date: Sep 2016

Journal Name: September 2016 - Vol. 52, No. 9

I am a proud graduate of Knoxville Catholic High School. I feel fortunate to have attended that school: My teachers were inspired, my classmates were curious and the environment was welcoming. I would not trade the experience. However, given the demographics of my city and the fees required to attend my school, there was limited exposure to diverse cultures and ethnicities. By and large, my classmates were white, middle class, Catholic kids. As a protestant, I constituted what passed for a minority on campus. While my school preached diversity and inclusion, there was little real opportunity to practice it.

Like many, my first true taste of a diverse population came in college. Maybe the best lessons I learned in four years of higher education related to the need to embrace diversity. I remember very little about lectures from Poli Sci 101, but I can still remember, in detail, being challenged by classmates of differing backgrounds concerning my most closely held beliefs. Those were the conversations that made me grow as a person, not necessarily because my opinions were changed, but because I was forced to examine them and to appreciate other viewpoints.

A monochrome life is comfortable. Practicing law with likeminded people of similar backgrounds and cultural heritages breeds confidence but limits growth. Embracing diversity is hard. It challenges at every turn. It requires patience and humility, strength and civility. The best lawyers I know constantly challenge themselves.

The business community has, for some time, come to understand and appreciate that it is worth the effort and that value comes with diversity and inclusion. It is axiomatic that a diverse community makes a company more innovative, drawing upon differing backgrounds, viewpoint and talents. In addition, a diverse company is a more dynamic company, as workers tend to be happier and more productive when they know all viewpoints are heard and respected. Further, a diverse and inclusive environment tends to attract more talent, again on the notion that the best and brightest wish to be in a setting where all are equally welcome to voice opinions.

While these benefits are valued by the legal community as well, perhaps the most important justification for diversity in the practice of law stems from our duty to the public as professionals. We, lawyers and judges, are representative of our system of justice. Public confidence in the profession requires that the bar reflect the larger community and demonstrate a commitment to inclusion. Even when the system works well and we strive to achieve true justice, the mere perception of a “good ole boy” network undermines that success. 

Further, being diverse means something more than simply pointing to the number of minority lawyers in the profession. The Tennessee legal community must foster an environment where those lawyers know they are encouraged to participate and lead. Beyond fostering an environment fertile for diverse growth, we need to raise awareness of the issues all of us face in a diverse community. These are the goals of the Tennessee Bar Association.

The TBA’s Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity (CRED) is committed to strengthening our profession by promoting and fostering diversity within our community. For years, CRED has led the charge on these issues for our community, and I want to thank the tireless volunteers for their hard work. This year, CRED is going to spend time focusing upon where it has been and where it is going. A changing marketplace demands we constantly reevaluate our commitment to diversity. We are committed to a systematic and intentional approach to issues facing minority lawyers and the impact of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds upon the profession as a whole. We have to recognize that the demographics of our state present unique challenges to fostering and embracing a diverse culture, and creative solutions are required to maximize the efforts of CRED. This is an effort that requires participation and investment by all.

CRED will be taking input this fall from all stakeholders in the commitment to diversity. I trust that the profession will let its voice be heard and lawyers across the state will have input on this important mission.

Jason H. Long JASON H. LONG is a partner with Lowe, Yeager & Brown in Knoxville. A graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law, he is a past president of the TBA Young Lawyers Division and the Knoxville Bar Association Barristers.