COLUMN > A Note From the WSBA Executive Director
BY TERRA NEVITT
This weekend, as I enjoyed the long-awaited arrival of summer with family, in between beach walks, slip and slides, sunscreen mists, s’mores, and intense rounds of the game Apples to Apples, our conversations inevitably turned to the state of the world. Even my teenager looked up from their phone screen to comment, “Are you talking about the Supreme Court?” As we shared our fears and concerns, I turned to my 72-year-old father and asked, “Has it always felt this way?” We all chuckled rather darkly when he answered, “No, it hasn’t.” Not wanting to accept this answer, we named wars, economic crises, and assassinations from the past, questioning why those wouldn’t have felt just as bad? We landed on a familiar—practically cliché—answer: The difference now, what feels especially bleak, is the seemingly uncrossable divide growing in our communities and nation.
I was thinking about this conversation as I sat down to write this column to tell you about—and encourage your participation in—our upcoming membership demographic study. This will be the second study of its kind that the WSBA has conducted, with the goal of gathering statistically reliable data to support and grow a diverse membership of legal professionals. Our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts seem to be among the most divisive topics we undertake at the WSBA.11 See GR 12.2 (Washington State Bar Association: Purposes, Authorized Activities, and Prohibited Activities). I wish it wasn’t a topic that divided us, but I understand it. My own experience as a white woman raised in a Catholic home in a small, rural community is that these topics touch into my deepest sense of wrong and right and tug at my insecurities about whether I am fundamentally a good or bad person. Then there’s my perfectionism, a trait I’m sure many of my fellow attorneys share. Talking about racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia—talking about trauma—is messy, to say the very least. We are bound to default to avoidance. We are bound to make mistakes. We are bound to say hurtful things. We are bound to upset people. We are bound to look ignorant. Perfect—absolute “right” and “wrong”—is not possible.
But as divided as a column like this may make us feel, I have to believe that every single one of us values justice and fairness. Those values do not belong to any particular political party, religion, ethnicity, or group of any kind. They belong to all of us. Perhaps we can hike over to that common ground and set up camp?
Perhaps another bit of common ground is our desire to make data-driven decisions. We need to “take the guesswork out of the equation.” Those were the words of Michelle Su as she presented a joint proposal from minority bar associations regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion to the WSBA Board of Governors in May. A wise person taught me to simply believe people when they tell me what they are feeling or have experienced, even—perhaps especially—when it doesn’t make sense to me. It is not always easy to put into practice, but I have seen what a powerful tool it can be for building trust and relationships.
Even more powerful than believing? Acting. As many friends, colleagues, and strangers have commented to me in emails, letters to the editor, and in conversations: We have talked enough. It is exhausting and preachy and annoying. Meaningfully and systemically addressing inequities in our legal system, our workplaces, our relationships, and our families is going to require strategy, and we should strive to take the guesswork out of that strategy.
And where do we start? With data, which drives a plan—hence, the survey. The WSBA developed its first strategy for cultivating a diverse and inclusive legal profession with its 2013 Diversity and Inclusion Plan. That plan was informed by our first membership demographic study and has directed our work ever since. That original plan called for a refresh of the demographics and recommendations in 10 years, so we are right on time.
Please participate—it will make a difference. We want this demographic study to reflect your experiences. Data is our most powerful tool for planning, but only if the data is complete. The results will shape how the WSBA supports underrepresented and historically marginalized legal professionals; promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion in the profession as a whole; and creates a new Diversity and Inclusion Plan for the next decade. We will also share the data widely with minority bar associations, law schools, the Administrative Office of the Courts, access-to-justice organizations, and other stakeholders so they, too, can strategically direct resources in the years ahead.
We expect to open the survey for participation by September. The survey consultants will follow up with focus groups in the fall. At the end of the project, the consultants will produce a report with a demographic summary and analysis as well as recommendations. Stay tuned for more information.
This is one way that we will attempt to “take the guesswork” out of our progress toward becoming an equitable and inclusive organization. Something that I hope all of us at Camp Common Ground can agree is worthwhile. I would love to hear about your own efforts. I humbly and sincerely acknowledge that this is a complex issue, and the more we share best practices and innovation, the more we can grow and support each other in the legal community. (As an example, please read the excellent article on page 40 with tips for identifying and mitigating implicit bias in family law.)
I wish you and those you love the very best this summer as we all grapple with the big things going on in our world.
Let Your Voice Be Heard
Your input is critical as the WSBA Board of Governors decides whether to recommend a structural change to the Washington Supreme Court. To provide feedback, you can attend an upcoming meeting (live or remotely) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Two important questions for all members are:
- What programs, services, benefits, and supports does the WSBA provide that are important for you, your practice, and the legal profession?
- What challenges does the current bar structure present, if any?
To provide feedback, you can attend an upcoming meeting (live or remotely) July 23 and Aug. 13, or email email@example.com.
1. See GR 12.2 (Washington State Bar Association: Purposes, Authorized Activities, and Prohibited Activities).