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Diversity Remains a Top Priority for the Association: A Quarter Century of Effort

Posted By Mark Shem, Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Updated: Friday, April 25, 2014

by Mark Shem, SCCBA 2010 President

[reprinted from the March 9, 2010, Daily Journal, SCCBA Monthly Newsletter]

 Nearly a quarter century ago, the Santa Clara County Bar Association (SCCBA) did what no other bar association in the country had done:  it institutionalized it’s commitment to diversity.  In 1989, the Association’s Board and membership changed the Association by-laws to create trustee positions on the Board for all the local minority bar associations and SCCBA minority committees, in addition to the elected positions.  That significant step resulted in the Black Lawyers of Santa Clara County, the La Raza Lawyers of Santa Clara County, and the Women Lawyers’ Committee having dedicated, voting trustee positions. Since that time, as other minority bar associations and Association committees have been organized, trustee positions have been added, including the Asian Pacific Bar Association and the SCCBA Rainbow Committee, which addresses concerns related to gay, lesbian, and transgender attorneys.  That historic step has led to many, many milestones in the Association’s commitment to diversity.  That commitment remains one of the most important and defining initiatives for the SCCBA.

 Included among the milestones in the past 25 years are:  1) the implementation of the Bay Area Minority Summer Clerkship Program in 1990, which has placed hundreds of first year minority law students with dozens of large law firms in the Bay Area, giving these students experience and opportunities that they otherwise would not have had; 2)creation of the annual SCCBA Barristers Leadership Program in 1994, which provides new lawyers, in particular, new minority lawyers, with a four month intensive in leadership training and orientation to the SCCBA to given them the information and skills necessary to assume leadership roles in their firms, the community and the SCCBA; 3)creation of the Minority Access Committee in 1991 to focus SCCBA resources on advancing diversity in the profession and the Association; 4)creation of the first gay, lesbian transgender bar association committee (the Rainbow Committee) in the State of California in 1993; 5)creation in 1994/95 of the Gender Fairness Committee and Gender Fairness Complaint Procedure for the courts, which is now part of the local superior court rules;  6)creation in 2006 of the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Diversity in the Legal Profession in Silicon Valley, co-chaired by Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court, Carlos Moreno and Bruce Sewell, General Counsel for Intel, Inc. The work of the Commission culminated with a Diversity Conference in fall of 2006 and a comprehensive report with recommendations for further advancing the SCCBA’s commitment to diversity.

The SCCBA has also been a leader in taking positions to address inequality and discrimination in the profession and society.  Some of these efforts include: 1)a series of resolutions  to California Governors beginning in 1999, encouraging them to appointment more diverse candidates to the bench; 2)a resolution in 2002 condemning the hate mail being sent to certain Latino community members, including Latino attorneys; 3)a resolution supporting the ABA’s efforts in pipeline issues, specifically those to combat high rates of minority attrition and to ensure that admission policies do not have a disparate impact on minority acceptance rates; 4)a series of resolutions supporting the California Marriage Equality Act and opposing Propositions 22 and 8; and 5)filing of an amicus brief in the In Re Marriage Cases and participation in two other amicus briefs addressing the equal protection issues posed by Proposition 8.

The SCCBA has been fortunate to receive recognition for its efforts in diversity over the years, which has included the 1991 Award from the State Bar Ethnic Minority Relations Committee for Contributions Toward Enhancing Opportunities of Minority Attorneys; the State Bar of California Diversity Award in 2003 and 2007; the 2002 California Minority Council Program Award recognizing the Bay Area Minority Summer Clerkship Program; and in 2006, La Raza Lawyers of Santa Clara County recognized the SCCBA for its Silver Sponsorship of the La Raza Scholarship Dinner and For Commitment and Support to the Latino Community. 

In the fall of 2009, the SCCBA Diversity Committee (formerly the Minority Access Committee) submitted its three year report addressing the progress made on the recommendations from the 2006 President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Diversity in the Legal Profession in Silicon Valley.  As outlined in that report, virtually all of the recommendations have been implemented or are in progress.  In addition the eighteen law firms, which pledged to implement best practices in advancing minority participation in their firms, are taking tangible steps to implement those best practices.

Those recommendations from the 2006 Commission that have been implemented or are ongoing include the following.

SCCBA Program Recommendations

Reorganize Minority Access Committee to Diversity Committee:   The Task Force recommended a modification to the governing structure for addressing diversity issues and implementing diversity recommendations already adopted.   This reorganization took effect in January, 2008. 

Annual Diversity Award:  The Task Force also recommended that the outstanding diversity efforts of firms, entities and individuals within the legal community be recognized with an annual award from the Bar Association.  Three Diversity Awards, on a one-time basis only, were presented at the 2006 Annual Judges’ Night.  The Board of Trustees in 2007 adopted a policy setting forth the composition of a selection committee and the criteria for selecting an awardee.  Three awards have been given since that time at the Association’s annual Judges’ Night.

Website Clearinghouse:  The Task Force recommended that the SCCBA Pro Bono website ( also be used as a clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities in diversity.  This was included in the design and development of, which launched in October 2007. 

Diversity Liaison Staff Position:  The Task Force recommended the creation within the SCCBA of a staff position to coordinate and disseminate information about new and existing diversity programs, and staff the Diversity Committee.  This position was created in 2006.

Diversity Employment Opportunities – Bay Area Minority Summer Clerkship Program (BAMSCP):  This recommendation sought to have the SCCBA continue to support and revitalize the BAMSCP for 1L students, with particular focus on the Silicon Valley.  The program has an average of 16 participating employers with an average of 21 spots for 1st year minority law students. The program is in its 18th year. This continues to be one of the most important pipeline programs the SCCBA sponsors.

Mentorship Programs:  This recommendation was to work with existing mentorship programs like the Role Model Program, through the Diversity Committee and create mentorship opportunities for new attorneys in firms to interact with older attorneys, through networking and formal relationships.  Developing mentorship opportunities is an ongoing project for the Diversity Committee and one of its priorities for 2010.

Create Diversity Pledge, secure signatories and post signatories on website:  This recommendation was to post all law firm signatory members of the Diversity Pledge in the “Opportunities to Promote Diversity” section of and other prominent locations such as newsletters and e-mails.  This was accomplished in 2007.

Law Firm/Corporation Best Practices and Policies Recommendations

 To evaluate the level at which the signatories are implementing the recommended best practices or similar initiatives from the 2006 Commission’s Report, the 2009 Diversity Committee surveyed the 18 signatories to obtain that information.  The law firm signatories to the SCCBA Diversity Pledge include:  Bingham McCutchen; Fenwick & West; Google; Hewlett Packard, Inc.; Intel, Inc.; Law Foundation of Silicon Valley; McManis Faulkner; Morrison & Foerster; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; Phoenix Technologies; Pillsbury Winthrop; City Attorney’s Office of San Jose; Office of County Counsel, Santa Clara County; Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office; Stanford Office of General Counsel; Sun Microsystems, Inc.; White & Case; and Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati.

 These firms reported the following efforts in implementing best practices to recruiting, retaining, and advancing minority attorneys within their law firms.


·          Diversity Policy w/succession plan:    All survey respondents have a diversity policy and that diversity policy includes a plan to promote minority partners to leadership and management positions (“succession plan”).


·          Best Practices in the following areas:

o         Mentorship Programs:   Pledge signatories should create and maintain programs that promote diversity and reward, either financially or with public acknowledgement, successful mentorship efforts.  Of the survey respondents, three have formal mentorship programs.


o         Business Networking for 1st Years:   Pledge signatories should create and promote effective business management training for first year associates, specifically including networking and business development. Five of the survey respondents reported having business management training that meets this best practice recommendation.


o         Work/Life Balance:   Pledge signatories should promote flexible work schedules for attorneys with families that do not inhibit advancement or leadership opportunities.  Five of the survey respondents report having some kind of flexible work policy.


o         Billable Hours Credit/Work Credit:  Pledge signatories should credit attorneys for Bar Association and diversity activities or mentoring, (whether internal or external) by allotting billable hours or some other method of recognition on performance reviews.  Four of the six survey respondents provide some kind of credit through billable hours or other positive performance recognition. 


·          Training:  Signatory firms should create and promote ongoing diversity training from the “top down.”  Signatory firms are encouraged to participate in CLE programs at the Bar Association to promote cross-pollination of ideas within the firm.

All these efforts should be applauded and our legal community can be proud of these accomplishments.  Still, and unfortunately, there is much to be done in advancing diversity in the legal profession, the bench and within the SCCBA as an organization.   Minority applications for law school are at an all time low, particularly among Latinos and Black students.  Minority attorneys are being disproportionately impacted by law firm layoffs during the economic downturn; minority attorneys are not advancing to partnerships in law firms in the same proportion as their numbers in hiring; minority attorneys are still not joining nor participating in the SCCBA in sufficient numbers to bring us close to having an integrated bar association.

The Santa Clara County Bar Association has a long standing, historic commitment to advancing diversity in the legal profession.  This commitment remains and is reflected in these statements of the Association’s overall goals in diversity:

·          To have a fully integrated bar association that has credibility, integrity and influence with the local legal community and the local judiciary with respect to important mutual objectives in administering justice, which for 2010 are diversity in the association, the legal community and the judiciary, pro bono, and access to legal services and professionalism.

·          For the SCCBA, the local minority bar associations and minority attorney members to be engaged as partners in promoting diversity in the legal profession in Silicon Valley as well as in improving the administration of justice and access and fairness of the legal system for all people.

We should all find some way this year to contribute to the SCCBA diversity initiatives and assist in advancing these critically important goals.

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