Author: Kymberlee Curry Smith, Esq. Posted On: June 10th, 2012 In:News
Increasing Florida Bar Participation
Every summer brings the renewal of The Florida Bar membership. What is that $265 membership fee for anyway? The Florida Bar regulates professional standards and professional growth for its over 90,000 members and is committed to service to its members and the citizens of the state. As stated on The Florida Bar, “The services provided and successes achieved by The Florida Bar are due totally to membership involvement — to dedicated service by many lawyers, from the elected representatives on the Board of Governors, to volunteer section and committee members, local and other voluntary bar associations, and numerous contributions from individual lawyers.” Are YOU an involved member? If the answer is NO, there are a number of reasons why you should be.
Like any other organization, The Florida Bar is only as good as its members, and that includes its African-American members. It is no secret that minorities are underrepresented in Florida’s legal community. Here are some very sobering statistics and background information from a 2007 Issue Paper from the Bar entitled, Minorities in the Legal Profession Prepared by The Florida Bar Public Information and Bar Services Department with assistance from the Public Service Programs Department:
- In February 1984, the American Bar Association (ABA) created the Task Force on Minorities in the Legal Profession, charging it to investigate and report on problems facing minority lawyers and to submit recommendations designed to promote the full integration of minority attorneys into the profession.
- In November 1989, The Florida Bar appointed the Commission on Equal Opportunities in the Profession for a two year term to address the low representation of minority lawyers in Florida’s legal community; the lack of minority participation within the Bar; and means by which to improve opportunities in Florida for minority lawyers.
- In January 1992, the “Membership Attitude Survey Report and Recommendations” was issued. The report made 14 recommendations, one of which was to have The Florida Bar formally adopt the ABA’s goal of promoting full and equal participation in the profession by minorities and women.
- The Supreme Court of Florida also addressed the dearth of minority lawyers at all levels of the legal profession. In 1989, then Chief Justice Raymond Ehrlich issued an administrative order creating the Racial and Ethnic Bias Study Commission. This two year commission’s primary charge was to determine “whether race or ethnicity affects the dispensation of justice in Florida.”
- On Nov. 19, 2004, the Chief Justice of Florida created the Standing Committee on Fairness and Diversity by Administrative Order AOSC04-225.
- Bills were introduced in the 1993 and 1999 Legislatures to create a third public law school. (The other two public law schools are at Florida State University and the University of Florida). A controversy developed as to whether that new law school would be associated with state’s historically black university (Florida A&M) or the only university with a near majority of Hispanic students (Florida International University). On May 2, 2000, the Florida Senate voted unanimously to create two new law schools — one in South Florida at Florida International University and one for FAMU in Central Florida. After House passage, the governor signed the bill into law.
- In July 1993, The Florida Bar became one of a handful of state bars to adopt specific language proscribing discriminatory practices by lawyers. [Amending Chap. 4 of The Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 48.4(d) Misconduct and adopting a new aspirational policy -- 1.40(a)]
Despite the aforementioned efforts done to encourage and increase minority inclusion and participation, the following disparities, as listed in the same publication, still exist:
- Minorities are significantly underrepresented as judges in Florida in proportion to their numbers in the general population, comprising only 15.1% of the 990 judges in the state: 6.7% are reported to be African American, 7.4% are Hispanic and less than 1% are of another minority group (Office of the State Court Administrator, February 2007).
- Minority women, at 6.7% of all judges, are particularly scarce in Florida’s judiciary
- Minorities comprise slightly more than 20% of the 2,056 members on standing committees of The Florida Bar: 13% are Hispanic, 6% are African American, 1% Asian/Pacific Islander and less than 1% are of another minority group (The Florida Bar, September 2006).
- Hispanic and African Americans made up 16.8% and 15.5% respectively of Florida’s population, according to the 2000 Census.
- According to the 2006 Florida Bar fee statement, of 54,734 respondents, 47,064 are white, 4,469 are Hispanic, 1,767 are African American, 628 are Asian or Pacific Islander and 68 are American Indian or Alaskan.
- The 2006 Economics and Law Office Management Survey indicates that approximately 89% of Bar members are white, 7% are Hispanic, 2% are African American, and 2% are of another minority.
Clearly these numbers demonstrate a drastic underrepresentation of African-American attorneys in The Florida Bar. The Florida Bar itself makes note of the fact that minority representation in the legal profession is significantly lower than in most professions. It is for this reason the increased participation of African-American attorneys, although few, is that much more important to ensure fair representation in The Bar’s various services. Recently Scott Hawkins, The Florida Bar President, has outlined a number of key matters that affect all attorneys: diversity, Pro Bono service, budget shortfalls, Florida’s merit retention voting, and the importance of the Board of Governors. However, they have implications that may hit closer to home for its African-American members, as well as communities they serve, live and work in. Next quarter, we can examine a few of these pressing topics.