By: Lori T. Williams, Owner/Managing Attorney of Your Legal Resource, PLLC
As Michigan becomes more ethnically, culturally, and racially diverse, it only makes sense that the residents have legal representation (and other services) which reflects their culture, race, and ethnicity. To that end, on March 15, 2012, 26 Special Purpose Bar Associations throughout the Metro Detroit region were represented at the 3rd annual celebration of Michigan’s Diverse Bar. The event was held at Fishbones in Detroit. State Bar of Michigan President, Julie Fershtman, encouraged the attorneys present to sign theDiversity Pledge, found on the State Bar’s website. As more lawyers and law firms sign the pledge, it is updated regularly. Click here for the latest list of signatories of the pledge, as of March 13, 2012.
The rationale for the pledge can be found in the Commentary to the Michigan Pledge to Achieve Diversity and Inclusion, which relied in part on an ABA report in April 2010, supporting creating greater diversity within the legal profession. One of the observations gleaned from the report was that ”as America races toward a future where minorities will be the majority and more marginalized groups make their voices heard, the legal profession’s next steps towards advancing diversity must produce more viable, sustained outcomes. Despite our efforts thus far, racial and ethnic groups, sexual and gender minorities, and lawyers with disabilities continue to be vastly underrepresented in the legal profession.”
According to a 2009-2010 demographics report conducted by the State Bar of Michigan, the following ethnic groups combined made up only 10% of Michigan’s lawyers: African American, Asian American, American Indians, Arab American, and Hispanic Latino Americans. As part of the State Bar of Michigan’s commitment to create more diversity within the Bar, Gregory Conyers was named the first Director of Diversity in October of 2009. Over the last 3 years, progress has been made to create a more diverse bar in Michigan, but there is more to do.
Fershtman sought to broaden the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee’s “best practices”, by surveying firms on policies that allow flexibility for women who need maternity leave, child care, etc. ”My hope is that this information will be of use to firms state-wide that try to accommodate women lawyers,” says Fershtman.
I had the chance to speak with Julie after the event and ask her about her other goals as State Bar President, both during and after her tenure is completed. She noted that she would like to see more women in leadership roles at the State Bar. Although Fershtman is the 77th President of the State Bar of Michigan, she is only the 5th woman to hold this position. ”I commend women lawyer organizations for initiating programs that are designed to help women become better rainmakers and more successful practitioners. With the visibility I have gained through my State Bar leadership role, I’ve been invited to speak to local and national organizations on these topics recently, and hope to do more of that. I’m also encouraging solo/small firm practitioners, especially women, to become more involved in the bar. About half of the State Bar committees, through the committee appointments I made last year, are headed by women,” says Fershtman.
As a former solo/small firm practitoner herself, Fershtman recognized that the State Bar’s Practice Management Resource Center (PMRC) was a valuable resource for solo and small firm practitioners. ”My goal was to improve it to offer greater content and a broader range of topics. I developed the PMRC Advisory Committee, chaired by Rebecca Simkins. The committee is expected to serve an ongoing purpose of keeping the PMRC current and relevant.”
Another program Fershtman strongly supports is Casemaker, which is one of the Bar’s member services. ”It is a 50-state legal research program that is free for members of the Bar. Lawyers operating on a tight budget can benefit immensely from Casemaker as a way of cutting overhead expense.” Click here to learn more about Casemaker (Frequently Asked Questions).
I think it is safe to say that Fershtman has made good use of her year as State Bar President, and she’s only half way through it. She will no doubt accomplish even more in the coming months. She’s a great example of leadership, integrity, courage, and perseverance, and she is representing our Bar well.
Fershtman is a shareholder in the Law Firm of Foster Swift Collins & Smith, PC and works in their Farmington Hills Office. She handles general insurance defense, insurance coverage, and other business litigation matters. Fershtman joined the firm in October of 2010, after practicing as a solo/small firm practitioner for 17 years. Fershtman can be contacted through her personal website and the State Bar of Michigan Blog.
Lori T. Williams is a 23 year attorney based in Birmingham, MI. She owns a legal referral and legal consulting business called Your Legal Resource, PLLC. She assists individuals and small businesses in need of legal advice or representation by connecting them with the right legal specialist for their situation. She also provides consulting services for attorneys and other professional service providers on how to generate more business through effective branding, marketing, networking, and by creating strategic partnerships. For more information, visit www.bestlegalresource.com.