by Elsa Martinez Tenreiro
As you probably know (and can read about on the accompanying page), the Colorado legal community came together in an effort to complete a survey of the Denver legal community and to learn about perceptions of diversity among our members.
An important issue discussed in the survey results is that of the "pipeline" — how new attorneys enter the profession. I believe that our pipeline issues extend much further than that. The pipeline begins in our schools, where a large percentage of students — many from diverse backgrounds — are not graduating from high school. There are decreasing rates of minority students registering for pre-law programs in college and, consequently, proportionally fewer diverse students being admitted into our law schools.
Nationally, the increase of minority attorneys has failed to keep pace with the minority representation in the U.S. population, and Colorado lags behind the national trend. Considering the Denver metro area demographics, specifically the Hispanic population, our law school admission of minorities has proportionally decreased. The survey results lead us to the conclusion that we must take an active role in improving diversity in the Colorado legal profession.
There are things that we, as a legal community, can do to help change these trends. I believe that having lawyers in classrooms (kindergarten through 12th grade) will encourage students to get excited about civic education and will give them hope for graduation. Students who have attorneys as role models through active contact and communication are more likely to take an interest in the law, and down the line, may decide to attend college and then law school.
It’s easy to get involved.
The DBA has partnered with Denver Public Schools to promote programs like "We the People ... The Citizen and the Constitution," a national civic education program coordinated in Colorado by the Center for Education in Law and Democracy. It is directed by the Center for Civic Education and funded by the U.S. Department of Education under the Education for Democracy Act. The program is designed to enable students to develop a comprehensive understanding of the Constitution and Bill of Rights and to foster greater appreciation of the rights and responsibilities of citizens in our constitutional democracy. But it’s bigger than that. It also has been a way for volunteer attorneys to get into the classrooms and to have contact with diverse students. Those volunteers, through training at the bar associations, encourage careers in the law.
Gilberto Munoz, DPS social studies coordinator, and Carla Frenzel, DPS social studies project coordinator, have actively participated in the DBA efforts to recruit and register attorney volunteers. Munoz noted that the student population in many of the local schools was largely composed of minorities. Frenzel said that having attorneys present in the classroom can instill confidence, encourage students to complete their studies and give them a sense hope for their futures.
The DBA’s goal is to have as many lawyers as possible participate in these programs, which include Constitution Day presentations and mock trials. The Bar makes it easy by holding trainings. Already this year, we have had a tremendous turnout of attorney volunteers. I would like to thank all of you who already have volunteered, and issue a call-to-action to those who have not yet done so. If you’ve been thinking about it, don’t hesitate! Contact the Public Legal Education Department, (303) 824-5303, to volunteer. It is tremendously rewarding to see young people excited about the law. Lawyers must make these efforts, beginning with the youth in our community, so that we can make headway with diversity in our law schools and in the legal profession.
The mission of the Diversity in the Legal Profession Committee is to break down the long-standing barriers that have prevented diverse attorneys from succeeding in the legal profession. Its goal is to cultivate diversity within the legal community and to work with law schools, law students, practicing lawyers and legal employers throughout Colorado to promote diversity at all levels. DILP has been instrumental in promoting the Rocky Mountain Diversity Job Fair, where diverse law students from Colorado and across the country come to interview with various employers. This year, it co-sponsored the Legal Diversity Summit, which was held in September.
DILP oversees a Mentorship Program that pairs first-year law students with experienced attorneys (who may or may not be diverse attorneys) who introduce them to real-life experiences associated with
working in the legal profession. These mentors guide and encourage the students as they move through law school.
The American Bar Association has documented the effectiveness of mentoring programs, especially as they relate to the professional development of diverse attorneys. The DILP Mentorship Program is one of the committee’s most successful programs. It has helped numerous diverse attorneys with the transition from law school to law practice. The program is carried out with the help of the University of Colorado Law School, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, the Denver and Colorado Bar Associations, and many specialty bar associations, including the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Colorado, the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association, the Colorado Indian Bar Association, the Colorado Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Bar Association and the Sam Cary Bar Association.
Summer Clerkship Program
In partnership with the Colorado Pledge to Diversity Group, the University of Colorado Law School and the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, DILP has assisted in promoting the Summer Clerkship Program, with the goal of diversifying Colorado’s law firms and legal corporate departments. The Clerkship Program gives students the opportunity to gain exposure to the work, requirements and culture of major law firms, to develop skills, confidence and resume credentials, and to network with Colorado lawyers. There were 36 applicants for the 26 positions in 2007.
Our community of attorneys deserves praise for their efforts this past year. We also have a long way to go. I urge you to consider getting involved with one of these committees or programs. We live in a great state. I hope we can nurture our youth and diverse community, to help it continue to be strong.