by Paul K. Stafford
Nearly 300 years after the institution of slavery was introduced into what would someday become these United States, and a little over 30 years after Emancipation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its 1896 case of Plessy v Ferguson that separate but equal was equal.
During the ensuing 50-plus years, people of conscience continued striving daily to build a better life for themselves and their progeny, while simultaneously continuing their struggle for all Americans to realize those inalienable rights guaranteed in their Constitution—among them, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness—in addition to full citizenship and equality under the law.
In its seminal 1954 Brown v Board decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Plessy precedent, ruling that separate but equal is not equal. In Brown, the Court went on to state that integration should be accomplished “with all deliberate speed.” The vagueness of the term endures today.
In the generations since Brown, we have travelled deliberately, at varying speeds, but the vestiges of what can be considered a bygone era remains. Its echo is evident in our educational system, employment opportunities and societal disengagement. It manifests itself in the disparity between various segments of our populous, and the discontent associated therewith. It was, and continues to be, a struggle to fulfill America’s promise and to live out the true meaning of a creed that all citizens are created equal. Valuing diversity and ensuring equal opportunity for all are integral to fulfilling this promise—a promise that will ensure the vitality of the republic for generations hence.
On the heels of advocacy surrounding another attempt by our nation’s high court to address an aspect of diversity—in this instance, a case involving university admissions which will have far-reaching implications for the future of diversity within our educational system and our nation as a whole—we must reflect on our own efforts individually and collectively to advance the cause of diversity within our profession and throughout our society. Promoting diversity, tempered with the challenges of ensuring fairness while providing equal access and opportunity to all, takes courage and commitment. We reflect upon our own efforts in this regard as we await the promulgations of this court and future courts.
But how does diversity translate in our local legal market? The Dallas Bar Association (founded in 1873) predates Plessy, and is one of the oldest, most vibrant and most respected bar associations in the country. For decades, the DBA and the sister bars have worked together to promote a diverse and inclusive legal environment. Suffice to say, however, that this spirit of diversity and collaboration has not always been so. Much like the high court, the Dallas legal community and its bar associations are not immune from changing precedent.
Progress has been made though the Dallas Bar Association, the sister bars and countless other stakeholders—armed with knowledge and conviction, steadied by courage and committed to positive change for the profession.
The type of commitment and conscience that admitted Fred Finch as the DBA’s first African American member in 1963 and admitted C.B. Bunkley and W.J. Durham posthumously in 2006.
The type of courage that resulted in the DBA’s Task Force on Opportunities for Minorities in the Profession’s Long Range Plan for Inclusion promulgated in 1990, which (among other goals) called for increased minority lawyer participation in the DBA, an enhanced relationship between the DBA and the Minority Bar Associations, increased economic opportunities for minority lawyers and an increased presence of minority lawyers in majority law firms.
The type of conviction that resulted in the DBA’s Statement of Goals of Dallas Law Firms and Corporate Legal Departments for Increasing Minority Hiring, Retention and Promotion (1994), which reinforced the goals of the Long Range Plan for Inclusion, with many of Dallas’ largest and most prominent firms as signatories, as well as endorsements by all of the major bar associations in Dallas.
The Dallas Bar’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is also evident in various other promulgations of the Dallas Bar, including its By Laws, the “A Bar For All” Report of 2008, and the Vision 2020 Strategic Plan (2010), and the goals, objectives, aspirations and philosophy embodied in these documents and others have endured and will continue to endure.
DBA’s commitment to a diverse profession and bar association is also evident through its programming, including mentoring at Dallas ISD, through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Amachi program, and at SMU and Texas Wesleyan law schools; through its commitment to Pipeline Projects, including Mock Trial, the Summer Law Intern Program and Law in the Classrooms; and through the Dallas Bar Foundation’s Sarah T. Hughes Diversity Scholarships, funded in part through the efforts of Bar None and the annual “An Evening With” dinner.
With this history, and in this spirit, the DBA’s Diversity Summit will be held on Thursday, November 29, 2012 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Belo Mansion. The purpose of the Diversity Summit is to promote diversity within the legal profession by focusing on best practices through discussions with attendees and representatives from law schools, law firms, corporate counsel and bar associations. For additional information on this must-attend event, please visit www.dallasbar.org/diversitysummit.
Precedents can be affirmed, rejected or established. Like those courageous trailblazers who have preceded us to create our path, there is still much work to be done to achieve the type of profession which we desire—the type of profession which we deserve.