History of the Convocation on Equality

Ten years ago, three organizations: the Multnomah Bar Association, the Oregon State Bar, and the Oregon Women Lawyers partnered to do something extraordinary—they decided to break the rules. Lawyers don’t often break rules, which is why this was such a noteworthy event. And on November 15, 2001, hundreds of legal professionals gathered in the ballroom of the Hilton in Portland, Oregon to participate.

What rule was broken? Until about 1999, the rule for lawyers focusing on diversity efforts had always been help to increase and maintain the pipeline. The working theory was that the solution for the lack of diversity in the legal profession was as simple as a supply-and-demand equation. If we want more diverse lawyers, we need more diverse law students.

Then in 1999, former chief of the Oregon Court of Appeals, Judge George Joseph, along with Judge Van Dyk, Mark Wada, and Lisa LeSage began asking “so then what happens?” Judge Joseph and his group changed the focus and, indeed, broke the rule. They looked at trying to identify barriers and pathways that impacted the retention of diverse lawyers in Oregon, or the “demand” side of the equation. The result of this simple inquiry was the enormous success of the 2001 Convocation on Equality.

That event was a culmination of the tireless efforts of over 40 volunteer members in the legal profession who created and recommended best practices in four key areas. Bill Crow chaired a committee on large firm recruitment and retention. Steven Crew and Dave Simon chaired the small and mid-sized firm recruitment committee. Libby Schwartz chaired a networking committee and former Oregon Supreme Court Justice Betty Roberts chaired the mentoring committee. At the 2001 Convocation, these committees presented their recommendations for best practices and later participants were asked to take action and commit to implementing them.

As a result of the Convocation, a new section of the OSB was created—the Diversity Section—a section that continues to pursue the important work initiated by these committees.

Ten years later, it is time to revisit the work that has been done and celebrate the accomplishments we have made.  This time, the Convocation once again focuses on energizing lawyers for this work while while also providing them with knowledge and tools to continue to work on diversity and inclusion efforts in Oregon.  Three concurrently running tracks of CLEs and programs are planned to meet the needs of the individuals attending.  Starbucks General Counsel Paula Boggs will be providing a keynote address along with our own home-grown expert on diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and former chair of the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, Judge Ellen Rosenblum.

The 2011 Convocation on Equality will be held at the Oregon Convention Center on Friday, November 4, 2011.

*Written by Akira Heshiki, Diversity Section Former Chair 2009
Co-Chair, Diversity Section Convocation on Equality Subcommittee