Letter from our Board Chair, Patrick O'Rourke, Vice President, University Counsel, and Secretary of the Board of Regents, University of Colorado

12/20/2019 12:55 PM | Amy Carter (Administrator)

I feel very lucky to have served as the Chair for the Center for Legal Inclusiveness’s Board of Directors for the past year. It was a year that was filled with progress, opportunities and challenges.

The biggest challenge is that we are still a long way from achieving greater levels of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. While many recognize our profession has not done enough to advance diversity and inclusion, we haven’t made as much progress as we’d like.  Lawyers who face barriers - such as women, racially diverse and LGBTQ attorneys - to their success are not thriving in their workplaces. Legal employers are not retaining diverse employees as well as they should, and too many lawyers are leaving their organizations and even the profession.

We’ve come to realize we’re never going to solve this problem by thinking of diversity as a numbers game. Diverse lawyers are unique people, each of whom bring an experience and perspective to their organization, and we need to build a legal culture that values them as individuals. When a diverse lawyer leaves a firm, the right question is “why did we lose someone we value?” instead of “how can we find another person to take her place?”

We hope to advance this goal in 2020 with the Diversity Engagement Survey, which will look at the critical traits that support a diverse workplace. It measures traits, such as whether those within an organization are aligned around a common purpose, whether the people who work have confidence that the organization’s policies and practices support them, and whether the organization fosters a sense of belonging. If we don’t make our workplaces better for both diverse and non-diverse attorneys, we’re not going to make our profession better.  You can learn more about the Diversity Engagement Survey here; please consider joining us as we believe this will provide the insight that many organizations need to move beyond diversity to inclusion and equity.

And there’s no reason to believe that we can’t be better. One of the best experiences I had this year was spending time with the high school students who participated in the Journey 2 JD program.  These young, talented students were exposed to the inner workings of the law for the first time.  While a few were very quick to say, “It’s not for me!” others walked away believing that they had a place in the legal profession, and we need to help them find that place. These students, many of whom had prior misconceptions of the legal system, were smart, perceptive, and talented. If we can bring them into our world, we will be better for it.

As we move into 2020, CLI is changing. Karen Hester left us, but not before she had created new programs, brought insight, and served as a wonderful ambassador to the legal community. We’re grateful for all she did and wish her well as she continues to promote diversity and inclusion in the private sector.

We also made a great decision to bring Phyllis Wan in as our Interim Executive Director. Phyllis brings years of experience as a leader in diversity and inclusion, and she knows the needs of our legal community. Already, she’s helped us take a new look at how we’re offering services and where we can make the greatest  impact. CLI should be a leader in our community, and we’re working on plans to increase the value we provide to CLI members.

I have lots of hope heading in 2020. Another great addition for 2020 is our incoming Chair, Ryann Peyton. Ryann has accelerated our progress as we  begin to look at our membership model, engaging our Board more effectively, and developing better programming for our members. Ryann is an extraordinary leader who embodies inclusion in all she does.

As the year closes, I reflected that we lost United States District Court Judge Wiley Y. Daniel this year. Judge Daniel was not only an extraordinary judge, but he was a tireless champion for diversity and inclusion. At CLI board meetings, he was a voice of reason, vision, and compassion. We will honor him if we continue to value each other, not accept the status quo, and embrace the qualities that unite us.

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