No resolution presented herein reflects the policy of the Minnesota State Bar Association until approved by the Assembly.  Informational reports, comments, and supporting data are not approved by their acceptance for filing and do not become part of the policy of the Minnesota State Bar Association unless specifically approved by the Assembly.

 

MSBA Diversity Committee

 

RESOLVED:  That the Minnesota State Bar Association amend its Bylaw 9.3.4, pertaining to the nomination of an at-large officer to be selected by the Assembly, as follows (text to be deleted is struck through;  text to be inserted is underscored):  “The Assembly shall consider the need to provide for gender, and racial, and other forms of diversity in the leadership of the MSBA when electing the officer at-large.”

 

Report

 

In 2010, the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) Assembly will elect a new Secretary according to Bylaw 9.2.3, who will be referred to as an “at-large” officer because of the manner of their selection.[1]  Pursuant to its laudable goal of promoting diversity in the leadership of the organization, Bylaw 9.3.4 states that in making its selection, the Assembly “shall consider the need to provide for gender and racial diversity.”  The MSBA Diversity Committee strongly supports active encouragement of candidates from traditionally-underrepresented populations to participate in the leadership of the Association.

 

However, the Committee is concerned that Bylaw 9.3.4 no longer adequately reflects the MSBA’s approach or commitment to diversity and its promotion in the Association and the legal community generally.  As part of its structural reorganization earlier this decade, the MSBA formalized within its Bylaws (see Bylaw 2.3(b)) its affiliation with several minority bar associations, each of which is entitled to representation in the Assembly (Bylaw 4.3(c) and (d));  collectively, these associations are also directly represented in the Council (Bylaw 7.2(g) and (h)).  While the bulk of these associations are defined along the lines of race and/or gender, as Bylaw 9.3.4 is, the MSBA has also recognized as an affiliate the Minnesota Lavender Bar Association, which is defined along the lines of sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Committee feels that Bylaw 9.3.4 thus is already inconsistent with the actual practices of MSBA in terms of inclusion of underrepresented groups within its leadership.

 

Moreover, in 2005 the MSBA launched an extensive, multi-year effort to study diversity-related concerns within the Minnesota legal profession, issuing a report of its findings in 2006[2] and a follow-up report of best-practice recommendations in 2008.[3]  The far-ranging work that culminated in each of these reports explicitly encompassed issues not only of race and gender, but also of sexual orientation/gender identity, disability, and religion.  By issuing these reports, the MSBA has expressly committed to a broad approach to diversity, and in its ongoing efforts to promote its best-practice recommendations, has effectively established a “diversity baseline” which includes, at a minimum, these five aspects of diversity.  The MSBA has justifiably been proud of the fact that its work has been noticed and embraced by colleagues in bar associations across the country. 

 

It is therefore imperative that the MSBA itself make all efforts necessary to assure that its own policies and operations reflect the inspiring commitment to diversity that it strives to promote elsewhere.  The Diversity Committee does not believe that the current Bylaw 9.3.4 was written specifically to limit the Assembly’s consideration of at-large candidates only to individuals who embody diversity in terms of race and/or gender;  it is appropriate to recognize the historical and significant underrepresentation of women and people of color within the legal profession and the leadership of the MSBA.  However, considering the MSBA’s decisions with respect to recognizing affiliate groups and its extremely public commitment to a broad understanding of diversity, it is likely that at some point in the future, the MSBA will have the opportunity to consider a candidate for an at-large officer or other leadership position who embodies an aspect of diversity other than gender or race.  Therefore, the Committee requests that Bylaw 9.3.4 be amended in such a way that recognizes the historic and significant underrepresentation of women and people of color while also establishing that these are not the only aspects of diversity the Assembly may consider in selecting an at-large officer.  The Committee also feels that simply expanding the list of identified aspects of diversity might simply set the MSBA up to repeat this conversation down the road, when it appears that an expanded list still does not cover something deemed important at that time.

 

Procedurally, proposals to amend the Bylaws are presented to the Assembly via resolution of either the Council or of any Assembly Committee (Bylaw 18.2(c) and (d)).  The Diversity Committee believes that consistent with the MSBA’s recommended best practice of “communicat[ing] commitment from … top leaders to diversity and gender equity,” see 2008 Report at 13, it is appropriate that the Council adopt this recommendation and present it to the Assembly for its consideration as soon as possible in order to have this language in place, if approved, prior to the Assembly’s consideration of at-large officer candidates in 2010.



[1] In comparison, in rotating years, officers are nominated by the Hennepin County Bar Association, the Ramsey County Bar Association, and the “outstate” district bar associations.

[2] “2005 Self-Audit for Gender and Minority Equity,” issued September 2006.

[3] “Diversity and Gender Equity in the Legal Profession:  Best Practices Guide,” issued June 2008 (“2008 Report”)