Denver Bar Association
March 2008
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Moving Beyond Diversity to Inclusive Excellence

by Kathleen Nalty

Colorado’s legal community is not unique in the challenges presented by low numbers of diverse attorneys, high attrition rates in private practice, and declining numbers of diverse law school applicants. This situation is faced by every legal community in the country. But the Deans’ Diversity Council, formed in November 2006 by CU Law Dean David Getches and DU Law Dean Beto Juárez, has proven to be a tremendous catalyst of energy and enthusiasm in the Denver legal community to find meaningful solutions to this challenge.

The Council, which includes top leaders from all sectors of the Denver legal community, has made remarkable progress in just one year. In addition to forming the DDC and three Working Groups as well as playing a major role in conducting a diversity survey and hosting a national-scale diversity conference in September, the law deans and the Council recently created a sustainable structure to provide the resources needed to address the lack of diversity. A new nonprofit organization — Colorado Campaign for Inclusive Excellence — will develop a unique educational program for the legal community about how to create an inclusive workplace where all attorneys, including those who are diverse, want to stay and feel deeply connected and valued. Attrition rates of diverse attorneys in private practice are much higher than those for non-diverse attorneys but creation of inclusive cultures will lower attrition rates for all attorneys.

The term "Inclusive Excellence" is a new paradigm for the legal profession. It moves beyond numbers (compositional diversity), and involves embedding practices and philosophies that encourage diversity in every aspect of an organization. Numbers are a critical component of any initiative but as long as diversity in the legal profession is viewed, as it largely has been, as an outcome — a number, a strategy or a phase — progress will be elusive. Real diversity in the legal profession will never be achieved when the focus is solely on numbers. Strategies that fail to address underlying systemic causes and work to achieve sustainability are little more than transient attempts at change.

The establishment of a permanent and robust organization, CCIE, will act as a clearinghouse for information on diversity best practices and support legal offices in their efforts to adopt the principles of inclusive excellence represents a significant step toward achieving a new paradigm in the legal community concerning diversity.

The 2008 Rocky Mountain Legal Diversity Conference at DU Law School on March 19, will focus on practical steps for creating inclusiveness environments and feature local and national experts. The conference will feature a national expert, Verna Myers, as well as Miguel Rivera, Associate General Counsel at Wal-Mart, who will speak about The Call to Action and corporate legal counsel’s push to diversify the legal profession. To learn more about the conference, go to http://www.colegaldiversity.org.


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