Running At-Large Part I: I Didn’t ‘Come Out’ of Nowhere
When asked if I would write a blog entry for NWSidebar about my reasons for seeking appointment as governor at-large of the Washington State Bar Association, it was hard not to feel exposed. You see, the at-large position is not an elected position from a district. It was established to enhance diversity and representation on the Board of Governors, and the position must be filled by an active attorney with “experience and knowledge of the needs of those lawyers whose membership is or may be historically underrepresented in governance, or who represents some of the diverse elements of the public of the State of Washington.”
It should surprise no one that a gay multiracial lawyer who has overcome personal hardship and adversity might behold a public interview about his experience with immense trepidation. It is difficult to preserve the integrity of private matters while seeking a public board position. Being out in public requires a willingness to inhabit that vulnerable yet powerful space between expectation and courage. To be honest, I have always been an “out” lawyer. I was out when I passed the Bar. I was out as a new attorney. I was out when I joined the Court Rules and Procedures Committee. I was out on the Rules of Professional Conduct Committee. I was out then as I am now. Minorities are often around the table performing difficult tasks and making key decisions behind the scenes. In this regard, I didn’t come out of nowhere.
The difference is visibility. I needed some assurance I was “worthy” of leading a profession that for so long seemed unattainable for people like me. After finishing a fellowship with the Washington Leadership Institute (WLI), I knew there really were opportunities to do more to support diversity and inclusion at the Bar. While I was active on WSBA committees in the past, the WLI Fellows are known for undertaking challenging but rewarding community service projects throughout the year. In 2012, the WLI Fellows collaboratively designed a Mentorship Toolkit hoping successful participants (both mentees and mentors) could receive CLE credit for their time enhancing the competency and legal skill of their colleagues. Securing credit would also mean building support at the WSBA, the MCLE Board, and the Supreme Court to award CLE credit for mentorship.
Around the same time, the WSBA was responding to a 2012 Membership Study, which revealed a profession in transition. With 56 percent of Washington lawyers projected to retire, leave the practice of law, or reduce their practice within five years and a history of poor retention of minority practitioners, an influx of diverse attorneys presented both an opportunity and a challenge; members frequently cited mentorship as important for facilitating positive career trajectories, especially for newer women and minority attorneys. A mentorship workgroup was established to explore the feasibility of a statewide mentorship program and my efforts on the workgroup to build a WSBA mentorship program would endure throughout my term as Governor At-Large.
By what felt like providence, I gained appointment at a time of deep commitment to moving the profession into the future with support for diversity and inclusion through mentorship and comprehensive member benefits. By what now feels like professional duty, I want to assure you that the WSBA continues to support diversity and inclusion within its leadership because you are that future.
Check back with NWSidebar in the next couple of weeks for part two of Gov. Cava’s “Running At-Large.”
The deadline is 5 p.m. Thursday, April 20. For more information, please visit the Board of Governors Elections.