WILL DAVIS, YLD President State Bar of Georgia
Why Diversity Matters in the Legal Profession
“We, as lawyers, have been given great power and responsibility in preserving the health of our democracy. Our various colors, national origins, genders, religions and sexual preferences are irrelevant to our worthiness to shoulder those burdens, yet allow us as a profession to understand and ably represent every combination of those constituencies. Hearing every voice makes us stronger as a nation.” That statement was submitted to the newsletter of the Illinois State Bar Association’s Diversity Leadership Council, among those written by members of the Illinois Bar’s Standing Committee on Women and the Law, and the Standing Committee on Minority and Women Participation, on why diversity matters to them. I will share several others in italics throughout this article.
Diversity is important to the legal profession, despite the profession’s history and how long it took for Bar leaders to realize it. Here in Georgia, I am proud to say the Young Lawyers Division has always been at the forefront of change and creating new programs for the State Bar. I think that is, in part, based on our diverse participation.
As the first openly LGBT president of the YLD, I can look back on leaders who have come before me and appreciate that the YLD has led the way in terms of diversity within the State Bar leadership.
The YLD’s first woman president, Donna Barwick, served in 1988-89, nine years before Linda Klein became the State Bar’s first woman president, in 1997-98. The YLD has now had 14 female presidents, compared to three for the “big Bar,” although current President-elect Dawn Jones, Treasurer Elizabeth Fite and Secretary Sally Akins are standing in line to potentially double that total over the next three years.
Derek White became the first African-American YLD president in 2002-03. He was followed by Damon Elmore (2005-06) and Amy Howell (2009-10). Patrise Perkins-Hooker (2014-15) remains the only African-American president of the State Bar, until Dawn Jones takes her oath of office two months from now.
My immediate predecessor, Toombs County Chief Magistrate Judge Rizza Palmares O’Connor, is Georgia’s first Filipino-American judge and first Filipino-American president of the YLD.
“The interpretation of the law is...