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First diversity awards honor efforts to increase access

Eve Hill
A southern California attorney and two bar associations were honored last month for their efforts to ensure equal opportunity for all persons to the legal profession.

The State Bar's first-ever Diver-sity Awards were presented at the annual meeting to Eve L. Hill, executive director of the Western Law Center for Disability Rights in Los Angeles, California Women Lawyers and the California Minority Counsel Program. All were honored for their "outstanding efforts . . . in promoting diversity in the legal profession."

In addition to her work with the law center, Hill, 38, chairs the bar's Committee on Legal Professionals with Disabilities and teaches at Loyola Law School, where she designed a course in disability rights law to encourage new lawyers to represent the disabled.

"In all these capacities, her spirit of innovation has enabled these endeavors to draw strength from one another by minimizing duplication, maximizing collaboration and contributing substantially to our profession on a number of levels — from the new law student to the seasoned attorney and to everyone in between," said Olegario D. Cantos, an attorney who nominated her.

At the law center, Hill coordinated efforts to at-tract disabled students to law school and in one event brought together more than 70 students and job seekers with disabilities, matching them with elected officials from Los Angeles, non-profit organizations and corporate sector leaders.

She also created the Young Profes-sionals Board, a group of law students and newly admitted attorneys who work to increase awareness of disability issues among young lawyers, and she created a team to train private attorneys on disability sensitivity and issues.

Hill has hired and promoted attorneys with disabilities within her organization and she lectures widely on eliminating bias toward legal professionals with disabilities.

She also challenged the courts of Los Angeles for failing to provide physical access for attorneys and other parties with mobility impairments and has sought strong enforcement of a state rule of court which addresses accessibility issues for persons with disabilities.

California Women Lawyers shared the diversity award given to bar associations with the California Minority Counsel Program (CMCP). The women's group, founded in 1974 when only 4 percent of the state's judges were women, was honored for its longtime efforts to include more women in the legal profession and on the bench. Today, 20 percent of Cali-fornia's 1,500-plus judges are women.

The association continuously takes a strong leadership role on behalf of all women in California and serves as a network for women's bar associations, women attorneys, judges, law professors and law students statewide.

Among the activities cited by the bar's access and fairness committees, which determined the award winners, were business development seminars for women lawyers, its "So You Want to be a Judge" seminars demystifying the judicial appointment and election process, and establishing a mechanism to promote consideration of women candidates for judgeships. It also evaluates California candidates for federal judicial appointments and provides input to the state's senators and the president.

The minority counsel program was co-founded by Drucilla Stender Ramey and Guy Rounsaville in 1989 in recognition of the fact that although minorities make up close to half of California's population, they are seriously underrepresented in the highest levels of the legal profession. The program addresses that under-representation, particularly in the corporate counsel and law firm partner ranks.

A membership organization which draws from corporate legal departments, law firms, bar associations and public agencies, CMCP sponsors numerous activities designed to promote diversity in the profession.

They include an annual business development conference, a variety of roundtables, a monthly e-newsletter publicizing accomplishments of member minority attorneys, forging an alliance with Special Counsel, a national recruiting firm to help member firms and corporations find a diverse applicant pool, and incorporating on its website a "lawyer locator" function, the only online searchable database of attorneys of color in California.

A statewide program that achieves its goals on a statewide rather than local or regional basis, CMCP is nationally renowned for helping ethnic attorneys get business from majority firms and providing training and mentoring programs.

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