Innovating Diversity

From #MeToo to Hackathons – New Ideas for Programming

By the year 2044, the United States will officially become a majority-minority nation. More than half of our population will belong to a minority group. By 2060, one in five Americans will be foreign-born. And in 2016, for the first time in U.S. history, babies of color were born the majority. 

When I facilitate diversity programs with the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, I often start with those statistics. It helps to lay out how our country will continue to transform over the next few decades. Then I talk about the numbers in the legal profession.  

According to the American Bar Association, of the 1.3 million lawyers in the United States, 85% of them are white. 5% of lawyers are black; 2% are Asian, and 5% are Hispanic. As for gender, 35% of lawyers are women. 65% are men. For larger law firms, women account for 22% of partners, minorities for 8%, and minority women for 2.76% of all partners.  

The juxtaposition of those numbers was part of the reasoning behind the Illinois Supreme Court’s amending of Supreme Court Rule 794(d) regarding professional responsibility CLE. The Rule now requires that Illinois lawyers take one hour of diversity and inclusion CLE and one hour of mental health and substance abuse CLE every two years. Illinois lawyers have long had an expansive professional responsibility requirement that has included both of these categories. However as the number of courses offered in these areas has remained low, and the problems in our profession continue to manifest themselves, the Court decided to take an additional step toward ensuring the continued professionalism of one of our nation’s largest bars. 

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Michelle Silverthorn

Michelle Silverthorn

After spending seventeen years living in the Caribbean, Michelle undertook a number of around-the-world detours before ending up at the doorstep of the Commission, including four years as a general litigator in New York and Chicago. She remembers pretty much everyone she’s met in her travels but she would especially like to meet again the passengers on a January 2001 flight from Miami to JFK. At the pilot’s request, they donated enough money for Michelle, who had her wallet stolen, to get back to college safely. She would very much like to tell them all thanks.
Michelle Silverthorn

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