By Members of the DEI Council, in Recognition of and with Gratitude for the Tremendous Contributions of WSBA Equity and Justice Lead Imani Shannon in Creating the DEI Council
During its July 21 meeting, the WSBA Board of Governors voted to approve the restructuring of the WSBA Diversity Committee into a more inclusive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Council.
Prior to 2012, the WSBA had two different diversity-focused committees: the Board of Governors’ Diversity Committee and the WSBA Committee for Diversity. The Board of Governors’ Diversity Committee was focused on diversity policy established by the Board. The WSBA Committee for Diversity was focused on increasing diversity within the membership and leadership of the WSBA, promoting opportunities for appointment or election of diverse members to the bench, supporting and encouraging opportunities for minority attorneys, and raising awareness of the benefits of diversity in the legal profession. This committee’s membership was open to any WSBA member.
In 2012, the Board of Governors voted to merge these two committees into one, which became known as the WSBA Diversity Committee. This committee was unique in that Board members were not liaisons to but rather voting members of the committee. Unfortunately, at the time, the WSBA Bylaws11 www.wsba.org/docs/default-source/about-wsba/governance/proposed-bylaw-amendments/current-wsba-bylaws0cc870f2f6d9654cb471ff1f00003f4f.pdf?sfvrsn=26cc0bf1_39. and Committees and Boards Policy22 www.wsba.org/docs/default-source/legal-community/volunteer/volunteer-toolbox/bog-committees-policy-amended-july-2022.pdf?sfvrsn=c65310f1_5. were not updated to reflect that structure.
Since 2012, this Diversity Committee’s work has focused on assisting systemically marginalized and underrepresented groups to enter, thrive in, and advance to leadership roles in the legal profession. Its purpose is to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession and the legal system, and it has worked on initiatives for the Board under GR 12.2(a)(6), promoting “diversity and equality in the courts and legal profession.”33 www.courts.wa.gov/court_rules/pdf/GR/GA_GR_12_02_00.pdf.
The WSBA Committee and Board Policy listed the Diversity Committee among the nine other committees outside of the Board of Governors’ standing committees. However, WSBA Bylaw IV(C)(1) stated that the Diversity Committee was one of the Board of Governors’ standing committees. The Bylaws further provided that the Diversity Committee may include both general members of the WSBA and members of the Board of Governors, but, as a Board of Governors standing committee, that only Board members had the authority to vote to approve the Diversity Committee’s actions, policies, and direction.
Since its inception, however, the Diversity Committee had allowed Board members and non-Board members to have an equal say. In fact, in the course of its work in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession and the legal system throughout the years, the Diversity Committee had grown to include WSBA Board members, non-Board members, and law student representatives. Many of the members were also Bar and community leaders.
Change in Structure
In 2021, the Board of Governors informed the Diversity Committee that it was acting out of compliance with the WSBA Bylaws by allowing non-Board members to vote. To correct the noncompliance, the Diversity Committee proposed a change in structure to become the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Council. WSBA Bylaw XI(C) provides that “councils are created and authorized by the Board to serve as advisory committees to the Board on matters and issues of particular import of the Bar.” As part of the process, outreach was done to many stakeholders including minority bar associations, Washington law schools, the Superior Court Judges Association, the District and Municipal Court Judges Association, members of the Alliance for Equal Justice, and others in the equity and justice community.
At its July 2022 meeting, the Board voted to approve the change to a council, making the Diversity Committee the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Council. This DEI Council has its own charter and will be able to continue its overarching mission: to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession and the legal system.
The DEI Council’s membership will include members of the Board of Governors and active WSBA members, WSBA pro bono status members, WSBA judicial status members and judicial officers, law students, law school faculty and staff, and members of the general public. In accordance with WSBA Bylaw Article IX.C, the WSBA president will appoint DEI Council members, with confirmation by the Board of Governors.
Thus, the DEI Council will have a much more diverse voting membership, including non-attorneys. In response to the stakeholder outreach regarding the change, members of the Pro Bono Council (the consortium of all 16 county-based volunteer lawyer programs throughout the state) sent a joint letter noting that obtaining input “especially from those who have lived experiences of marginalization, systemic oppression and underrepresentation in the legal profession and the larger community gives a valuable perspective to improve the quality and accessibility of legal services to clients.” The letter went on to state that “the addition of law students, judicial officers, and members of the public to the DEI Council could similarly better support historically underrepresented and under-resourced communities in accordance with the Washington’s Supreme Court’s June 4, 2020, directive to the members of the legal community.”44 www.courts.wa.gov/content/publicUpload/Supreme%20Court%20News/Judiciary%20Legal%20Community%20SIGNED%20060420.pdf.
In its charter, the DEI Council clearly states its purpose:
To advance diversity, equity, and inclusion and address the problems of bias, systemic inequities and underrepresentation in the legal profession, the Council’s work includes but is not limited to:
- Increasing and supporting members from underrepresented communities by developing and supporting diversity pipeline and mentorship programs and partnering with schools, students, and members from underrepresented communities.
- Developing diversity, equity, and inclusion educational content and programs for members, volunteers, and members of the public.
- Developing diversity, equity, and inclusion educational content and programs designed to offer members opportunities to learn, gain skills, and fulfill the MCLE ethics requirement on the mitigation of bias.
- Implementing and updating the WSBA Diversity and Inclusion Plan.55 www.wsba.org/docs/default-source/about-wsba/diversity/7-wsba-diversity-and-inclusion-plan-(with-cover-page).pdf?sfvrsn=85be38f1_1.
- Supporting and collaborating with the Minority Bar Associations6 www.wsba.org/connect-serve/other-bars/minority-bar-associations. to promote mutual goals to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession.
- Promoting leadership opportunities in the WSBA, legal profession, and legal system by engaging in outreach to underrepresented members and the public, promoting diversity in the judiciary, and recommending candidates for at-large governors on the WSBA Board of Governors.
- Advising the Board on examining issues through a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens and fulfilling its responsibilities outlined in General Rule 12.2(a)(6), WSBA Strategic Goals, and Race and Equity Justice Initiatives commitments, and approved resolutions concerning diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The Council shall work with a variety of stakeholders to ensure it centers underrepresented members and communities, and will work collaboratively with WSBA staff who manage diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.
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Find more information about the DEI Council at www.wsba.org/Legal-Community/Committees-Boards-and-Other-Groups/diversity-equity-inclusion-council.