Justice belongs to everyone.
It is not a privilege that citizens enjoy if they have earned it or have the wherewithal to afford it. Justice is a right, enshrined in the very first sentence of the United States’ Constitution.
When the Constitution was drafted, the Revolutionary War against England was still fresh in the minds of America’s founders. A forever promise of justice in the face of tyranny was foremost among their desires for themselves and for their future countrymen.
While the threats to justice are far different today, the importance of preserving justice for all is as clear as ever. Right here in Indiana, we are working hard to ensure justice for all by promoting diversity in our legal profession.
Equal access to the judicial system is one of the pillars on which our society is built. For justice to be accessible to everyone, the legal profession in Indiana needs to do more to reflect our state’s remarkable ethnic, racial and multicultural diversity.
According to the American Bar Association, there were more than 15,800 attorneys in Indiana in 2015. Sixty-five percent of them were men, but the issue of diversity in law goes far beyond the number of women in the field. An overwhelming number of attorneys nationally – 88 percent in fact – are Caucasian. Just 5 percent are African-American, and even fewer are Hispanic.
This does not represent the face of Indiana. Our courtrooms are a microcosm of races and nationalities, languages and of pieces on the socioeconomic chess board. People who look to a lawyer for sound counsel expect that when that lawyer looks back at them, he or she understands that road that led to the courtroom. How can our neighbors trust fully in their right to justice when the legal system bears so little resemblance to them?
The issue of diversity in the legal field goes ever further than the courtroom. Attorneys also have a habit of becoming community leaders. Attorneys have served our community as mayors, council members and more.
Under the leadership of Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush, we are trying to address this challenge through the Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunity. ICLEO was established to assist Indiana minority, low income or educationally disadvantaged college graduates in pursuing a law degree and a career in the Indiana legal community.
In 2015, Allen Superior Court received a $7,500 grant from ICLEO’s Gateway to Diversity program. The grant paid for an intern who helped out in my courtroom, performed legal research, wrote orders and experienced a myriad of real-world legal tasks she might otherwise have not had the opportunity to try. She experienced the legal profession hands-on, from the inside, hopefully filling her with a desire to come back to the field after graduation, preferably in Indiana.
Allen County was one of several counties in Indiana to receive the grant for 2015. But more opportunities are coming in 2016 and beyond. ICLEO will be working to bring diversity into the legal field through opportunities like the ICLEO Summer Institute, which helps minority, low-income, and educationally disadvantaged students excel at law school. Participants are immersed in first-year law school curriculum and skills courses designed to simulate the law school experience.
Simply put, the legal field needs you. Justice is an essential pillar upon which American society has stood for more than 200 years. Society functions best when all of the pillars are strong.