Challenge Disparity, Build Diversity

Dear Members of the Western New York Legal Community:

We are now into the sixth month of the COVID-19 era, and the future remains uncertain.  Over the past few months, we have been impressed with the local courts’ and bar’s ability to shift to remote work and virtual meetings and hearings.  However, as the courts expand operations and the economy slowly reopens, we want to remind everyone that COVID-19 closures and health risks continue to affect lawyers, clients, and witnesses and that these effects have fallen disproportionately on women and people of color.    

The pandemic and resulting economic downturn have exposed and exacerbated the inequities that women and minorities experience on a daily basis.  In early summer, the Western New York Women’s Foundation documented COVID-19’s effect on working women [attach/reference page # of Bulletin as appropriate].  The documented effects will continue into the fall.  Most schools are reopening either virtually or on a hybrid schedule, and there is limited availability of low-cost childcare.  While we recognize that all working parents will need flexible working arrangements, as shown in the Western New York Women’s Foundation study, the COVID-19 pandemic has disparately impacted working women. In other words, women need the profession as a whole to recognize that they are performing the challenging task of doing two jobs at once.

In addition, limitations on in-person attendance at the New York State Bar Exam are disproportionately affecting bar takers of color.  This compounds a pre-existing problem: due to the expense of bar exam study and preparation materials (and technology such as an up to date computer), many students of color do not have equitable access to these study aids and, as a result, some do not pass the bar exam the first time.  We do not yet know whether the economic collapse will adversely affect diversity enrollment in law school.

Our organizations together recognize that the legal profession is stronger when women and attorneys of color are actively engaged. Studies show that increased representation of women and people of color in leadership is associated with increased profitability and responsiveness to client demands.  In other words, women and attorneys of color are crucial to the legal profession, and it is critical that COVID-19 not impede or delay programs and funding that address making our ranks more diverse and inclusive.

Therefore, we are calling on the legal profession as a whole to support our working parents and to recognize the hurdles people of color face to advancement in our profession.  Employers must support flexible working arrangements. Colleagues, including opposing counsel and the courts, must be flexible and creative with scheduling. Opportunities for success and advancement must remain open to women and people of color, notwithstanding temporary adjustments to the demands of COVID-19.

And we must now all seize the opportunity to prioritize diversity and mitigate COVID-19’s effects.  We encourage you to provide internships to law students and to contact the UB Law Students of Color organization as part of your outreach for prospective candidates [add name and contact number].  It is also important to provide college students with internship opportunities during this time.  The Say Yes college internship program is looking for local firms, non-profits and government organizations to hire interns this fall.  We urge all employers to consider hiring a Say Yes intern and to provide a positive office experience to hardworking and bright young college students who may become hard working and bright young attorneys.  Please reach out to Stephanie Peete at 716.335.7520 or to find a Say Yes intern. 

Finally, we challenge each member of our profession to take the Pledge to “Challenge Disparity, Build Diversity.”  You’ll find the pledge below. Together we are stronger; together we can make a difference.

This initiative is brought to you by the following organizations

Minority Bar Association

Board Resolution

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Take the Pledge

Challenge Disparity, Build Diversity

I pledge to…
• Actively identify and address issues of disparity involving women and minority attorneys in my spheres of influence.
• Design and participate in initiatives within my law firm or other place of employment that addresses issues of disparity against women and minority attorneys.
• Participate in the Erie County legal community’s efforts to address issues of disparity and increase diversity and inclusion.
• Support my colleagues, financially or otherwise, in their efforts to implement the pledge.

**your signature**

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