Kuol Aman

This weekend, the world greeted a new country to its midst. South Sudan emerged from years of strife and tragedy, and now it is beginning a new chapter.

That reminded me of an event held at the State Bar of Arizona last year in which we got a preview of the auspicious event. I wrote about it here.

It was last October when Kuol Aman came to the Bar to speak with us about his experiences. Among the many topics he covered, he previewed for us a historic event that he eagerly wished for: the creation of a new state named South Sudan. And now it has become a reality.

Otu on our April 2008 cover

His appearance at the Bar was thanks to the association’s Diversity Department, led by I. Godwin Otu. And last week we got the sad news that Otu is leaving the Bar for new adventures.

Kuol’s visit was wonderful, much like all of the programming that Otu and the department spearheaded, both inside the Bar and in schools, courts and communities statewide. His leaving is a big loss for the Bar. We will miss Otu, and I wish him well.

We covered the efforts of the department and of Otu here and here.

Here’s hoping that whoever follows in his shoes will create programs as great—some of which might even give us a preview into historic events!

Otu in Arizona Attorney, June 2010

Star Jones at Phoenix School of Law, Feb. 26, 2011

On a recent beautiful day in sunny Phoenix, hundreds of schoolkids gave up their Saturday to learn quite a bit about law and the legal profession. Accompanying them on February 26 was a handful of lawyers, who sacrificed their time to share some stories and advice with the high-schoolers.

More on this story will appear in the May Arizona Attorney Magazine. A highlight of the day had to be the remarks given by Star Jones. The lawyer and TV commentator wowed the attendees with her personal stories of accomplishment and challenge. It was a great coup to invite her to attend.

Also speaking were the son and daughter-in-law of Judge John Roll, murdered in January during the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson.

But in this post, I have to acknowledge the lawyers who gave of their time that Saturday. Thank you (in alphabetical order) to:

Also worthy of praise were the members of the State Bar of Arizona’s Diversity Department. Director I. Godwin Otu and Assistant Rosie Figueroa regularly step up to create great programs. This event was a partnership between the State Bar, DiscoverLaw.org and the Phoenix School of Law (where the event was held).

The Phoenix School of Law presented Otu and Rosie with a plaque to thank them for all their efforts. Well done, all.

Here are some more photos from the event.

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Kuol Aman

When it comes to lunchtime, most of us spend a lackluster 20 minutes at our desk, wolfing down a sandwich in solitude, returning to our work quickly, which we never really left aside in the first place.

Here at the State Bar, though, a small band of people (OK, two) work hard to host events that transform our midday meal hour. The Bar’s Diversity Department—comprised of Director I. Godwin Otu and Assistant Rosie Figueroa—calendars monthly gatherings that enlighten and entertain. And this past Wednesday was no exception.

You may have heard of the “Lost Boys of the Sudan,” but until you hear an articulate rendering of the group’s pathway from darkness to a hope for a better future, you don’t really know their story.

Between 1983 and 2005, more than 27,000 young people were orphaned, displaced or separated from their families in the wake of a Sudanese civil war. In it, an estimated 2 million people were killed.

Speaking at the State Bar Wednesday was Kuol Awan. He is 31 now, but he was only about 5 when his village—and many others in Southern Sudan—was attacked by government soldiers. Civilians in the villages—mainly women, girls and the elderly—were raped, killed or enslaved. Boys, who were working in the fields or herding animals, had a better chance of survival. Kuol explained how he and five cousins escaped. Adding members as they fled, they eventually comprised a group of about 300.

The boys came upon a neighbor with what he now knows was an AK-47. He led the group to the eastern border of the country—a journey that took three months and cost many lives. Death was due to starvation or attack by animals or tribesmen.

His description of a life of flight and of refugee camps was harrowing. Ultimately, he was in a camp for nine years. When he and his countrymen—4,000 young men and 89 girls—landed at Sky Harbor Airport in 2001, he was ready for a new life.

But American ways surprised them. When they originally landed in New York, they were struck by the fast pace of pedestrians.

“Why are they moving?” Kuol recalled with a laugh. “Why do Americans like to walk around?”

Another disconnect was the fact that they could not live communally, as they were accustomed. Separated into apartments, they longed for a gathering spot. That gave birth to the Lost Boys Center, in Phoenix. There, they could gather, do schoolwork and search for jobs. That is also when they began crafting clay cows, which would be sold to create a scholarship fund.

Kuol Aman updated the audience with the current situation in his home country. A 2011 referendum in Sudan will determine whether southern Sudan will separate and become an independent nation. In his own life, Kuol, now an American citizen, eventually was able to marry his Sudanese girlfriend and bring her back to the United States. He has earned his undergraduate degree in psychology and is working on a master’s in social justice. He wants to be a lawyer.

When he was asked what he missed most about his country, Kuol did not have to pause.

“The people I knew when I was young.” He has visited Sudan since, but what has been lost has been lost forever.

Here are a few more photos from his visit.

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Otu on our April 2008 cover

Yesterday I talked about my interview with State Bar Diversity Director Godwin Otu. Our Q&A with him will run in our June issue.

(And thank you to Juliet Falevitch. She is the Manager of Marketing & Communications at the Phoenix School of Law. She has a wealth of experience as a producer and director, at Channel 12 and elsewhere. On Monday, she was a great host for our intrusive photo shoot and interview. We couldn’t have done it without her, and we owe her one.)

My conversation with Otu came at an opportune time. The American Bar Association is about to release a new report titled “Diversity in the Legal Profession: The Next Steps.” It will be issued on April 15, but we got an advance copy. Its findings are striking.

The 40-page report dedicates 17 of those pages to a series of recommendations, to (1) law schools and the academy, (2) law firms and corporate law departments, (3) government and the judiciary, and (4) bar associations.

Preceding those sections is a chapter called “Trends, Disappointments and New Directions.”

Not to be a killjoy, but let’s look at some of the findings of that chapter: 

  • “Despite decades of reports, task forces, and goals, in 2000 the legal profession remained about 90% Caucasian, with the national population at that time being about 70% Caucasian.”
  • [In the legal profession] “racial diversity has slowed considerably since 1995.”
  • “Even when diversity efforts were successful at recruitment, they often failed to improve the retention of diverse attorneys.”
  • “Law schools and law firms still tend to case the top part of the diverse applicant pool rather than focus on increasing the size of the pool.”
  • “By presuming the centrality of law firms, the legal profession has failed to address the reality that the majority of lawyers are in solo practices or very small partnerships.”

Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots. For instance, the ABA points to certain diversity strategies that are indicators of the more-successful programs across the country. They don’t name names, but say that “State bars and bar associations are beginning to realize the need for a paradigm shift along the educational pipeline.”

Given that, it’s good to note how much of the State Bar’s diversity and inclusion efforts have been focused on the pipeline, especially in the past year. And when Otu talks about the pipeline, he isn’t just trying to get more college kids to think about law school. He’s looking at grade school, middle school and high school, for cripe’s sake.

When Otu speaks about his department’s programs and initiatives, he is engaged, detailed and earnest. But when he talks about the young people who are affected by the initiatives, he smiles broadly, leans forward and speaks more quickly. He appears driven to reach the next generation.

Now that’s taking the long view.

Next Thursday, April 15, Otu and the State Bar are greeting the visiting ABA Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity, which will be meeting in Phoenix. I’m sure the visitors will have more to say about the new report. We’ll let you know.

The State Bar’s Diversity Department is here.

Click here for more on the ABA’s diversity efforts.

Good thing I'm not our photographer

Today, we are told, may be one of the last really beautiful days for awhile. So what better time than today to head outside and watch people work?

Well, it’s not as bad as it sounds. We scheduled an interview for this morning, and a photo shoot of the person immediately preceding the Q&A. So I lingered in the dappled morning light and watched the photographer ply her craft. And while she did it, I annoyingly snapped some photos of the artiste in progress.

As always, she was more than ably assisted by Arizona Attorney’s top-flight Art Director, Karen Holub.

Our story subject was I. Godwin Otu—known simply as Otu around the Bar. He is the Bar’s Diversity Directory. We spoke with him about two years ago, and it was time to catch up on diversity and inclusion efforts—how have they done, what does he expect for the future?

The shoot was at the Phoenix School of Law, and we couldn’t have chosen a nicer spot. The trees, the fountains, the not-being-in-the-office, the other-people-are-working. Ahh, that’s living.

Immediately after the outside shoot, we went inside, where we shot some “conversation” shots with him and me. Finally, after all that, I interviewed him, sitting in the moot courtroom. Look for our Q&A in the June issue. In tomorrow’s blog, I’ll share a little of what Otu said about diversity at the Bar and at the bar.

In the meantime, here are some of my snaps of the photo shoot.


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About an hour ago, dozens of eighth-graders from a South Phoenix elementary school visited the State Bar of Arizona offices. What a hoot.

Hon. Roxanne Song Ong

Earlier in the morning, they had stopped by the Phoenix Municipal Court, where Presiding Judge Roxanne Song Ong and Judge Carol Scott Berry greeted them and showed them around. The students also were able to replicate a trial in a muni courtroom.

Here at the Bar, the kids displayed posters they had made months ago in response to the prompt of what qualities do they seek in their imaginary city’s City Attorney. Their responses were good, and even insightful at times.

I. Godwin Otu, Arizona Attorney, April 2008

The outreach is part of the State Bar’s Diversity Department efforts. The Pipeline Project aims to introduce students to the legal profession and provide them support in the years leading up to important school and life choices. The Department is led by I. Godwin Otu, whom we featured in Arizona Attorney magazine in April 2008. Look for our follow-up conversation with Otu in our upcoming June magazine.

The Bar’s press release—and some of the posters—follow:

South Phoenix Students to Tour Phoenix Court on Wednesday

PHOENIX – March 22, 2010 – South Phoenix 8th graders on Wednesday will tour the Phoenix Municipal Court and meet judges as part of the State Bar of Arizona’s efforts to encourage the kids to stay in school and pursue a legal career.

The State Bar’s Diversity Pipeline Project has adopted Cloves C. Campbell Sr. Elementary School students to mentor over a number of years.

Diversity Pipeline Project volunteers will develop a long-term relationship with the students to help 7th and 8th graders foster the skills necessary to become a lawyer. The State Bar will track the progress of the students over time.

Phoenix Municipal Court Chief Presiding Judge Roxanne K. Song Ong will give the students a tour of the court and encourage them to attain higher education. Later in the day the students will visit the State Bar, 4201 N. 24th St. in Phoenix, to talk with paralegals and investigators to get an insight into additional legal careers.

WHO: State Bar of Arizona Diversity Pipeline Project

WHAT: About 75 Cloves C. Campbell Sr. Elementary School 8th graders will tour Phoenix Municipal Court, 300 W. Washington St. in Phoenix

WHEN: Court tour begins at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 24

WHERE: Phoenix Municipal Court, 300 W. Washington St. in Phoenix