Diversity Task Force part of Law Day celebration

Issue June 2006 By Bill Archambeault

As part of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Law Day efforts, the Task Force on Diversity sent its first teams of attorneys into high schools and colleges to speak to students about considering legal careers. The task force was assembled in early 2006 to bolster diversity within the MBA and throughout the legal profession.

The speaking presentations will be an ongoing effort of the task force, but was launched to coincide with the celebration of Law Day, which was May 1. The MBA also organized its Elder Law Education and Conversations on the Constitution programs in honor of Law Day. (For coverage of other Law Day events, see p. 4)

The task force is forming an advisory group made up of minority judges and attorneys.

The task force also sponsored a resolution at the May 18 House of Delegates meeting urging the American Bar Association to make diversity a priority and work with bar associations across the country to do the same.

For the school presentations, the task force has 12 teams — made up of an MBA officer or member and one minority attorney or judge — speaking to students across the state. MBA Vice President Valerie A. Yarashus, who co-chairs the task force with Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys’ President Robert W. Harnais, made her first presentation April 27 at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

Yarashus and Pamela M. Dashiell, general counsel in Massachusetts’ Office of the Attorney General, spoke to a dozen African-American students for about an hour.

Yarashus explained that the task force launched the program now “because we see it as an important part of the celebration of Law Day.”

“There’s a tremendous amount of interest on the part of students,” she said. “Students really appreciate the opportunity to ask attorneys and judges about their area of work and what they find to be meaningful about it. They’re also interested in practical questions, such as applying to law school and what to expect.”

Dashiell said it was useful for the students to hear from both her and Yarashus, not only because they have different racial backgrounds, but also because their law school experiences and career paths were so different.

“The students had a lot of questions about legal careers, and some of them were seriously considering a legal career, so I think it was very worthwhile,” Dashiell said. “It was a good turnout and they all wanted to be there.”

Yarashus said there will be more visits in the fall — including branching into presentations at middle schools — and she hopes to make return visits to schools so that the task force teams can build a rapport with minority student associations and mentor students pursuing legal careers.

“What we’re doing at the Mass. Bar is part of a national effort to increase diversity by going to the pipeline,” Yarashus said. “We need to start thinking about diversity earlier and earlier so we can increase the pool of applicants. We’re going to colleges and high schools this year, and we hope to expand into middle schools next year.”

That plan is also part of the ABA resolution passed at the May 18 House of Delegates meeting.

“When we received the materials a month ago, there were five other bar associations that had signed on,” said Richard Van Nostrand, a partner at Mirick, O’Connell, DeMallie & Lougee LLP in Worcester and former MBA president (2003-04). “It’s very much compatible with the MBA’s history of embracing diversity.”

Specifically, the resolution recommends that the ABA:

• Work with the National Conference of Bar Examiners and urge all state and territorial bar associations to ensure that the bar exam does not have a disparate impact on minority bar passage rates;

• Work with the Law School Admission Council and urge all state, territorial and local bar associations to work with accredited law schools to combat high rates of minority attrition and to ensure that admission policies do not have a disparate impact on minority acceptance rates;

• Urge all state, territorial and local bar associations to work with colleges and universities to develop and support pre-law programs that will ensure the increase of minority applications to law school and increase the readiness of minority applicants for law school; and

• Urge all state, territorial and local bar associations to work with elementary and secondary schools to develop and support programs that will ensure an increase in minority applications to college and will increase the readiness of minority applicants for college.

“It comes at a perfect time. It allows the Mass. Bar to be a co-sponsor. It encourages the ABA to do programs similar to the one we’re doing. It will increase an interest in entering the legal profession at an earlier and earlier stage. It’s an important principle to support,” said Van Nostrand.