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A pipeline to the profession

By James O. Heiting
President, State Bar of California

James O. Heiting

Leadership is the foundation of history. Our leaders take us to places and events that are recorded and are the subject of stories and debates for time to come. It is vitally important that, when we learn of leaders and the great things they have done, we can relate to them and see ourselves as leaders someday.

Growing up, I loved Mickey Mantle and Abraham Lincoln and Mohammed Ali. I met senator and lawyer John Tunney and was fascinated by the power and prestige of lawyers and judges, senators and legislators. I watched how Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi affected major changes in the world through the force of their personalities and beliefs.

Whoever our heroes are, we relate to them on many levels and use them to learn and to dream. We step into their shoes in our imaginations, and we fight the fights they fought, and we fight new fights that are our own. 

In talking to other governors of the State Bar during the year before my election to the presidency, I learned of the importance and the enthusiasm some had for a “pipeline project,” a method to encourage diverse students to a career in the law and diverse members of the bar to leadership positions.

Realizing that I owe my life to people who have reached out to me, the more I learned, the more I got excited; and after the election, I immediately appointed a Pipeline Task Force to put in place “the” model program(s) that would serve to level the playing field for the disadvantaged, give encouragement to the discouraged, to engage the disengaged. Many groups have had pipeline projects of sorts, but I wanted to put together the best of the best for our bar.

California is again taking a leading role in our profession. We put together, through the very able leadership of my chair, board member Ruthe Ashley, over 70 key leaders from education (junior high through law school), to corporate giants, to courts, firms and government entities who have spent this year putting this program together. It continues to gain tremendous momentum and growing national recognition.

As a result, our judiciary joined us in San Jose in June, where we introduced the forming pipeline program to an enthusiastic crowd of several hundred lawyers and judges, and the judges put on their very first Judicial Diversity Conference.

When somebody is teaching me, or providing information to me, or moving me onto the “right path,” respect and knowledge that they understand what I am about and who they are talking to is of primary importance. I must feel that they understand. Usually, the more exposure I have to those who are different, the more they become the same . . . or maybe the more I become the same. In either event, we begin to understand each other. We become blind to our differences and relate to our similarities.

This is not an issue of race, or gender, or income; but it is rather an issue of building confidence in our system of justice, in our judiciary, and in the lawyers and judges who provide legal service to all Americans despite barriers of language and culture. By our (lawyers and judges) achieving greater diversity, our citizens will feel more confidence to turn to us to help solve their problems -- not out of desperation because they are in trouble, but because of a mutual understanding and their growing belief in our ability and willingness to help.

In our society, in our country, we pride ourselves on the diversity of our citizenship. We are made up of all races, creeds, ages, appearances, backgrounds, religions, beliefs. When we meet the smiling innocence  and eagerness of 5-year-olds, with all their hopes, dreams and expectations, is there anyone who does not wish them every opportunity to succeed in life? How can we expect our children to live and thrive in this, our world we are forming for them, without diversity in the heroes of their dreams?

I want my children to be filled with the core understanding that we are all human beings, all struggling for health, love, happiness. I want my children to have heroes of every color and type, and the only way I can have that for my children is if our leadership is as diverse as our citizens.

We plan to unveil the final pipeline plans at our annual meeting in Monterey in October, and I hope to see you there.

On a separate note, I take this opportunity to welcome our newest governor, public board member from Sacramento, Jeannine English, and to express my deepest gratitude for the dedication and years of service to the lawyers and citizens of California by my good friend, Dr. Dorothy Tucker.

Let’s go out and do some good.

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