A MESSAGE FROM JUDGE ARGUELLO
Lady Justice is not blind. She is merely blindfolded. Her preference for sensory deprivation is meant to symbolize the ideal of impartiality that undergirds our judicial system. Lady Justice is a powerful reminder of the oath I freely took as a federal judge to render decisions without regard to race, gender, or creed.
But while Justice blinds herself, we plainly see who Justice is. Our country grows more diverse each year, and if the lawmakers become less representative of the diverse communities bound by our laws, a doubt takes hold: does Lady Justice (unconsciously) lift her blindfold to favor a privileged few?
In posing the question, I see the dangerous road down which the answer can lead us. Because our laws are the glue that binds civilization, a legal profession that reflects the great diversity of our communities is critical to the health of the third branch of government. The perception of inequity in our justice system erodes the fundamental idea—etched in stone above the entrance to our highest court—that we can all expect “equal justice under the law.”
This is far from an academic concern. I read with distressing regularity reports of the obstacles to inclusion in our lawyerly class. For example, in August of 2016, the American Bar Association’s Diversity & Inclusion 360 Commission issued its review of the state of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, the judicial system, and the ABA. The Commission concluded that the legal profession is one of the least diverse professions in the nation, with nearly ninety percent of lawyers being white. It lamented that “diversity is widely embraced in principle within the legal profession but seldom realized in practice.”
Prior to 2014, I would have had to agree with that conclusion. But today, my heart swells with pride because that is no longer the case in Colorado thanks to the hard work of an ever-growing team of lawyers who take seriously the goal of making our profession more inclusive.
For years, Colorado law firms and corporations have lamented that they could not become more diverse because it was hard to attract diverse attorneys to Colorado. In 2014, a small group of lawyers and I decided to address the lack of diversity in the Colorado Bar by drilling our own pipeline to diversity in the
law. We would do so not by looking beyond Colorado to attract students from afar, but by looking within—at the talent we have right here in our own state. Our group concluded that Colorado high school graduates, because of their ties to Colorado, were much more likely to remain in or return to Colorado after obtaining their law degrees. We also adopted a broad and inclusive definition of diversity which would include low-income students, students of color, and first generation college students who dreamed of becoming lawyers. We anticipated that, like many of us, these students would often be the first in their family to attend college and they would lack access to the types of people and experiences that allow their more privileged peers to discern a career in the law or to create the caliber of résumé that would attract attention from a law school admissions counselor.
So, in 2014, we founded LAW SCHOOL…Yes We Can (Sí Se Puede). The Fellows in our program—all rising college freshman from Colorado high schools—each receive four years of mentoring by teams of three lawyers. We supplement the mentoring with hard and soft skills development and exposure programming to ensure their undergraduate success and admission to the law school of their choice. As far as we have been able to discern, there is no program of the caliber of LSYWC in existence in the United States. We are the pioneers driving innovation in this field, and we are helping like-minded lawyers and judges in other states to set up similar programs.
In only its third year of existence, LSYWC is 38 Fellows and close to 200 lawyers strong. Of the current 38 Fellows in the program, eighty percent are women of color, more than half are first generation high school graduates, and eighty percent will be first generation college graduates. As you will see from the articles and information contained in our Second Annual Newsletter of LSYWC, although our Fellows are still in college, we are already making a difference in preparing them for a legal career. The Fellows describe how the experiences provided by LSYWC have opened their eyes to the opportunities they can pursue in the law—from internships in government and at companies such as JLT Specialty USA to more informal experiences such as simple chats with mentors and other local attorneys.
In “It Takes a Village—and Sometimes a Small Mint—to Raise a Lawyer,” Dermot Lynch hits the nail on the head in describing the uneven playing field on which diverse students must compete when it comes to the law school application and admission process. Fortunately, the Colorado legal community has stepped up to the plate and, together, we are forging a coalition to cultivate a legal community as diverse as the population bound by our laws. We will see a difference in the face of the Colorado Bar and in Colorado leadership in the years to come—with the help of the army of lawyers and professionals who have joined the ranks of LAW SCHOOL…Yes We Can —Sí, Se Puede!
“Lady Justice is not blind. She is merely blindfolded.” Read our Annual Newsletter, PIPELINE to learn about our progress.
“Drilling Colorado’s own Pipeline To Diversity in Law” By Lorenzo A. Trujillo.
“Sí, Se Puede” is a phrase born of farmworkers, who, under the leadership of the UFW, César Chávez, and Dolores Huerta, fought valiantly for equal protection under the law. As a result of the efforts of the UFW, “Sí, Se Puede” has become well known as a call that engenders hope and inspiration in those who face similar battles. We thank the UFW, whom we acknowledge to be the sole and exclusive owner of the Trademark SI SE PUEDE, for granting us a limited license to use“Sí, Se Puede” in connection with our efforts to recruit, in Colorado, students of Hispanic or Latino descent for our law school pipeline program. For more information about the programs offered by the UFW, please see UFW’s webpage (www.ufw.org); UFW Foundation’s webpage (www.ufwfoundation.org); and UFWF’s immigration services webpage (www.sisepuede.org)