Should I Join the Bar Association of a Minority Group I Don’t Belong To?

bar association minority groups

Last night, presidents and delegates from Illinois bar associations gathered in Chicago to recognize their shared commitment to embracing diversity and encouraging unity and cooperation across their membership.

During the Oath of Diversity and Swearing-In of Bar Presidents, which is conducted annually at the Unity Awards Gala, these legal leaders pledged to “uphold the ideals of my bar association as dictated by our bylaws, celebrating our commitment to promoting diversity, while furthering unity among my members and other bar associations, encouraging a spirit of friendship and cooperation.”

An ‘eye-opening’ and ‘very fulfilling’ experience

bar association jerrod williamsRecognizing the importance of this “spirit of friendship and cooperation” across bar associations, we recently spoke with Jerrod Williams, a Law Clerk for the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, and Past President of the Cook County Bar Association (CCBA), the nation’s oldest association of African-American lawyers and judges.

Williams is also a member of the Illinois State Bar Association’s DEI Committee and its liaison to the Minority Bar CLE Conference.

Williams noted that many members of the CCBA are not Black, which creates opportunities for idea-sharing and mutual respect. He also provided recommendations for attorneys who feel intimidated joining an affinity bar association because they aren’t part of the group it represents.

Should attorneys who aren’t part of a minority group consider joining an bar association that represents that group?

A primary benefit of joining an affinity bar association of a group to which you do not belong is the opportunity to expand your perspective on issues, which provides you with a deeper understanding.

I’ve learned that there are aspects of issues I wouldn’t have thought of because I’m not a part of the group that the specific aspect impacts most.

All of the issues minorities face impact us both similarly and differently. By being aware of the intersections and parallels, we can be better equipped to address them.

What would you say to an attorney who is intimidated to join a bar association because they aren’t part of the group it represents?

As long as they come with the right intentions—the intent to learn, to grow, to share—and not to use or manipulate, then I am certain they will be welcome.

Unfortunately, some attorneys only want membership on their CV. Those individuals may join but will not enjoy the full benefit of their membership.

You will be welcome and get the most by coming with an open mind and open heart.

How do bar associations develop and foster mutual respect among their members?

Currently, in the ISBA, there is a strong commitment to DEI. So much so that the roles I have filled were specifically created to foster such mutual respect.

Examples include the outreach and education work of the DEI Committee and ISBA’s continued support of the Minority Bar CLE, which is indispensable to [the CLE’s] continued success.

Can joining a minority bar association help lawyers better understand the experiences and needs of others?

Absolutely, yes. Lawyers can better understand others’ needs by being present in the room when those needs are discussed in those groups.

I have learned of issues that I didn’t even know were issues simply by being present at a meeting of another affinity bar (with special recognition to my friends in the Advocates Society) or chatting with other affinity bar members at events like the Minority Bar CLE.

The experience of joining a “different” minority bar association is eye-opening and, I have found, very fulfilling.

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