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Today's Pipeline grooms tomorrow's leaders

By Sheldon Sloan
President, State Bar of California

Sheldon Sloan

At our last meeting of the State Bar Board of Governors, we witnessed one of our most important projects of this year at work. In recognizing the five main winners of our first Kids & the Law Essay Contest, we saw in these leaders of tomorrow diverse ethnicity, diverse upbringing and – perhaps most significantly – diverse thinking. I say "main winners" because everyone that participated in this marvelous exercise was a winner, especially the Bar association.

It wasn't planned this way. In fact, it wasn't planned at all. The three teacher judges from different areas of the state arrived at the five winners independent of each other with no knowledge of the writers' personal circumstances. All any of the judges knew was that the writers were among the nearly 700 fourth- or fifth-graders who penned an essay based on the State Bar's popular guide, Kids & the Law: An A-to-Z Guide for Parents. (To read their outstanding work, go to

As I noted at the presentation, this truly is our Pipeline Project working at its best. Over the past two years, we have talked a lot about raising student awareness and interest in the law as a profession. Clearly, interest in Kids & the Law, When You Become 18, Seniors & the Law and other State Bar guides has been generated all across the state, reaching our multicultural population. A lot of this interest can be credited to you, the lawyers who have helped make sure that these guides reach the people – young and old – who will benefit from them.

Now, there certainly is no guarantee that any of our essay writers will become lawyers. But, needless to say, by providing the publications to the schools, offering the contest as incentive and bringing the winners to the State Bar for a special presentation, we are actively achieving one of the primary goals of our Pipeline Project: exposure to the profession.

And in the process, we made sure every one of our winners took away another important State Bar pamphlet: How Do I Become a Lawyer? Who knows? We may some day see one or more of our winners back at the bar, on our board, serving as president, or even helping to run the place.

This project is only one of the many offshoots of our Pipeline Project. As many of you know, in this past year we have taken many steps to advance a primary Pipeline goal: to increase the number of diverse lawyers eventually entering and advancing in the legal profession. We took a major step in moving our Pipeline efforts to a new level by creating the Council on Access and Fairness and appointing as its chair Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte, who already has come before our board and outlined a lot of the hard work that lies ahead.

As Judge Harbin-Forte so eloquently states, the work is not in providing "special treatment," but in ensuring that the same opportunities are open to everyone, from exposure to the profession at a young age, fairness in the applicant process at universities and law schools, and equal opportunity for advancement after entering the profession. Gov. Schwarzenegger's new appointments secretary, Sharon Majors-Lewis, also came to our board meeting last month and reiterated the administration's goal in reaching out to everyone in appointing judges, stating emphatically, "We're going to take a look at everyone who's applied."

These efforts within the profession have been accompanied by the release of statewide statistics that reveal how much work we have to do. While our state population is divided evenly between men and women with a 56 percent minority population, our bar is 66 percent men, 34 percent women, with 16 percent minority representation, and our bench is 73 percent men, 27 percent women, with 30 percent minority representation. As Judge Harbin-Forte noted earlier this spring, "If we don't take steps now to address this issue, people coming to the courts will lose respect for the justice system."

These numbers will not change overnight. State Bar Presidents before me realized that as well, which is why many people have worked very hard to put in place the idea of a Pipeline that works – and grows – over time, to provide access to all who want to work hard to enter and succeed in our profession. That is why I was so proud to honor those 10- and 11-year-olds last month; they worked hard to analyze Kids & the Law and then wrote essays revealing their respect for individual laws that govern young people. Whether they become lawyers, plumbers, doctors, electricians, business leaders, technicians or elected officials is not important; what is important is the opportunity available to them as they move through life, as well as the support they so obviously have from very proud parents and siblings.

The Pipeline is here today to produce leaders for tomorrow. It will continue to grow over the next decade and make those numbers more equitable. If we do our job correctly, it will enrich the profession and make us proud that we initiated this effort. And when successful, it will be emulated by other professions and in other states as everyone strives for access and fairness.

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