Ariz. Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch leads off a panel discussion of women judges, Minority Bar Convention, Phoenix, Ariz., April 13, 2012

Diversity in the legal profession is one of those things people talk around, unsure of its meaning or a strategy to achieve it. Some even question its value.

A few events in April answered those questions, through education and eloquence. And they demonstrated clearly that Arizona’s legal community has evolved to be one of inclusion and diversity.

I provide some photos of the two events. But you have to read to the end of the post to hear one attorney–leader’s take on why minority bar associations are valuable.

Congratulations to the organizers of the State Bar’s Minority Bar Convention. Held back on April 12-13, it opened with viewpoints of women judges, who explained their path to the bench. The convention’s keynote address was by former California Justice Cruz Reynoso; he described his extraordinary route from the farm fields of central California to the highest bench in the state.

Calif. Justice Cruz Reynoso (ret.) delivers the keynote address at the Minority Bar Convention, Phoenix, Ariz., April 13, 2012

If anyone doubted the challenges faced by women and people of color as they sought to effect change in the profession, the judges and Justice Reynoso eradicated them.

During the convention, I sat in sessions by Stephen Fairley on social media to improve your practice, and Bob McWhirter on the history of Equal Protection. Both were terrific.

(More photos from the Minority Bar Convention are here.)

But, some wonder, aren’t those challenges all in the past?

Just that question came up last year at the Arizona Asian American Bar Association banquet, when then-incoming President Briana Chua pointed out that not all lawyers agree that there is value to minority bar associations. She explained her viewpoint, but the question must be answered again and again.

Dr. Henry Lee speaks at the Ariz. Asian American Bar Association annual banquet, Chandler, Ariz., April 26, 2012

As always, this year’s AAABA banquet was wonderful (and delicious), and the keynote by Dr. Henry Lee was inspired. The well-known medical examiner shared stories and quizzed the crowd, tossing lapel badges for correct answers. (Lawyer Christine Thompson kicked butt on a question, earning her a shield. When I asked to photograph it, she offered it to me to pass on to my daughters. Very generous!)

The evening ends as it always does, though, when the new AAABA President rises to offer her or his remarks. That is when Gust Rosenfeld lawyer Mingyi Kang shared his view of the value of minority bars—that varied backgrounds provide different approaches to challenges, and we need as many approaches as we can get.

I have excerpted a portion of his remarks, which Ming generously shared:

“Last year, Briana in her closing remarks brought up that not all attorneys agree with having minority bar associations. Interestingly, I was also asked how come there is no Belgium American Bar or Belgium American association. My immediate response back then was that ‘I dunno—but if there is one, I would love to go to their events and meet some people.’ I mean, who doesn’t want to know someone who knows where to find good Belgium ale and chocolates (my two weaknesses). So what does it mean to be an Asian American, a Taiwanese American or a Belgium American anyway?

“Well, I can only tell you from my point of view. For years, I have been eligible to apply for citizenship of the United States. As soon as I was eligible, my wife printed and filled out an application for me to change my status. I came home one night, and the completed application was on the dinner table for my signature. I did not sign it then, and could not bring myself even to read the application for years.

Complimentary lapel-pin from Dr. Henry Lee

“Now, if you ask my wife Christina why I did not just sign it and turn it in, she would tell you it was because I am lazy and I procrastinate—both are true when it comes to things around the house—and, I love you, honey, but more importantly, I think I was not ready to call myself a citizen of the United States, and I don’t know if I was ready to be an American. I am not sure if I really like the political in-fighting here in the U.S. more than the political in-fighting in Taiwan. (In fact, the fighting in Taiwan is definitely more exciting to watch.)

“As the years passed and I did nothing to change my status, I remembered something my mentor and my boss Steve Rendell told me early on about being a transactional attorney: ‘We are not here to stop a deal from happening but to advise clients on how to reach an agreement.’ He would also say, ‘The client hired you as an advisor, so advise.’

“I took his comments to mean that we must find common ground to work out our differences, so that we can reach an ‘agreement.’ Applying that, I think we can either look at each other and focus on our differences, thinking we are all people from different fractions: Taiwanese, Belgium, Asian, Hispanics, etc., or we can look at each other and think that we are teammates who bring different talents and backgrounds to the table—we are all Americans. If we focus on our differences, we will not have a deal. If we focus on what we have in common, we will realize we are all Americans and just have different approaches to build on this great nation. We are here to work out our differences and to reach an agreement.

“I finally became a citizen last year because I think I am ready to bring something to this table—America. With that, I hope everyone enjoys tonight’s banquet as much as I enjoy a Belgium ale and Belgium chocolate. Thank you all for coming, and good night.”

L to R: Sharon Ng, Lisa Loo and Melissa Ho, Sept. 27, 2011

An organization’s board of directors is a representative body. Ideally, it reflects the membership’s changing face, because board members must embody the future of a profession rather than be in thrall to the past.

On that score, the State Bar of Arizona has reason to be proud.

On Tuesday evening, the Arizona Asian American Bar Association gathered to congratulate three of its members who sit on the State Bar’s Board of Governors. Each of them is a successful lawyer who has a lot to contribute. And each is an Asian American. For good measure, each is also a woman. (All photos are courtesy AAABA.)

At Portland’s Restaurant & Wine Bar in Phoenix, AAABA members and other well-wishers applauded the achievements of Lisa Loo, Melissa Ho and Sharon Ng.

AAABA President Briana Chua

Lisa and Melissa are each representatives from District 6; Sharon is the Young Lawyers Division President.

The event was a happy one. Host and AAABA President Briana Chua reminded attendees that, as well as anyone can tell, there has never been a time when three Asian Americans have served on the board at the same time. Amidst the many conversations I had that night with Arizona lawyers in attendance, one exclamation stands out: “This isn’t your grandfather’s board.”

Brava!

More photos are on the AAABA Facebook page. (And while you’re there, “Like” them.)

At the AAABA reception, L to R: Maricopa County Bar Association Executive Director Allen Kimbrough, lawyer Mike Mason, and State Bar of Arizona CEO John Phelps