Attorney Works to Promote Diversity in Law

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Danette Meyers, senior vice president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association and chair of the Diversity Conference Planning Committee, joins host Farai Chideya to discuss her group's efforts to promote greater diversity in the legal profession through their Diversity Pipeline Summit.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

The latest figures from the Census Bureau show that at least a third of all Americans are not white. Still the number of minorities entering the legal profession is remarkably low and the problem is especially bad for African-Americans.

In L.A., one of the nation's most diverse cities, blacks made up 10 percent of the population in 2000 but accounted for just 4.5 percent of the city's lawyers, and according to our next guest, those numbers aren't going up. To fix the problem, the L.A. County Bar Association will convene a two-day Diversity Pipeline Summit next week. Danette Meyers is senior vice president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association and chair of the Diversity Conference Planning Committee. Thanks for coming in.

Ms. DANETTE MEYERS (Senior Vice President, Los Angeles County Bar Association; Chair, Diversity Conference Planning Committee): Thank you for having me.

CHIDEYA: So, I have heard experts talk about the pipeline effects, what are you talking about?

Ms. MEYERS: The pipeline effect is a concept where we approached children at the early age, kindergarten. We mentor them, support them financially, encourage them to continue their education through high school continuing on through college and the university level into law school or any other professional school and supporting them with respect to this particular pipeline concept. We want to support them through the practice of law and perhaps on to the bench.

CHIDEYA: So you're really talking about growing talent not finding talent?

Ms. MEYERS: Correct. Exactly.

CHIDEYA: Why do you think that is so important?

Ms. MEYERS: It's really is important because the only way you become a lawyer is through the educational process. You have to have a truly good education in where you get into a very good law school or even an average law school, and to get a job; you've got to complete law school. If there's not the financial support, the moral support, you're not going to finish law school. If you don't finish law school, you can't take the bar exam. If you don't take the bar exam, you can't become a lawyer, and therefore, you can't become a professional.

It's really important that we have African-Americans and lawyers of color in this very diverse country as well as this very diverse city because the population is becoming more diverse. People of color want to see lawyers of color. They want to see doctors of color - it makes them feel more comfortable. And the perception of fairness within the justice system doesn't exist if people of color don't exist.

People feel more comfortable when they come in and they see a lawyer sitting in court that looks like them, that talks like them. They bring kids in and they say, hey, gosh, you know what, I can be just like that lawyer. I can be like that judge. We don't get judges of color if we don't have lawyers of color because the only way the governor can appoint you is if you're a lawyer, so it's really important.

CHIDEYA: You know, sometimes on the show, we used the word minority and sometimes we used people of color, there's always questions of language, but what strikes me, this is part of a national issue but here in Los Angeles, it's not really - there's no majority.

Ms. MEYERS: True, there's not.

CHIDEYA: There's pluralities but there's no majority. Yet, African-Americans are not by any means a large population in L.A. compared to cities like Chicago or Atlanta. Are there special challenges in a city like L.A.?

Ms. MEYERS: I think they are. I think that the challenges are that children -kids, high school students, college students, they do not see enough role models, they truly don't. And if you don't see a role model, you say to yourself, my gosh, I can't be like that person because there's nobody who looks like me and I don't inspire too much, and that's a problem.

I think having graduated from school back east, when I turned on the television I saw a lot of black professionals on television. When I turned on the news, the newscaster was black, African-American. Here you don't find a lot of that, and I think it's really important that when people turn on the television and they see people who look like they look, it makes them aspire to greater things, so.

CHIDEYA: We're almost out of time but what's your long-range goal for this initiative?

Ms. MEYERS: Our long-range goal is to encourage law firms, to encourage administrators, to encourage politicians and educators to join the pipeline concept, develop a program, to encourage kids starting at the early age of kindergarten to continue their education, to continue to become professionals and to join us as professionals in the legal profession to assist the community. Remember, change in this nation only occurred because the lawyers were the ones who foster change, and if we don't have people of color to continue that, we're in big trouble.

CHIDEYA: Danette Meyers, thank you so much.

Ms. MEYERS: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Danette Meyers is senior vice president of a Los Angeles County Bar Association and chair of the Diversity Conference Planning Committee. She joined me in studio here at NPR West, and next week, the L.A. County Bar Association will host a two-day Diversity Pipeline Summit.

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