While running for governor at-large on the WSBA Board of Governors offers “visibility” for those traditionally underrepresented in the profession, it also means speaking out as a champion for justice. After all, it is the WSBA’s mission to “serve the public and the members of the bar, to ensure the integrity of the legal profession, and to champion justice.” We need diverse leaders who understand the disparate impacts of the policies and procedures they write and who challenge structural barriers to access to the legal system.
The bar is committed to confronting these difficult subjects starting from the Board of Governors. Our internal commitment to diversity and inclusion brings into focus concerns linked to structural violence, or the avoidable institutional impairment of fundamental human needs. Discussions of structural violence may conjure up images of draconian debtor’s prisons or the disproportionate incarceration of racial minorities. Although, the reality is more insidious for the consumers of legal services who may lack meaningful access to affordable and competent representation while facing significant challenges, from the loss of parental rights or potential eviction to the complete loss of freedom and even death. They face these challenges while trying to navigate a complicated web of social services or the legal system in general.
For the practitioners who skillfully work with these clients, the pain is real. Each day, they wake up, march down to the courthouse, and advocate for those who otherwise would not have a voice in the “system.” Often, they do so with an overwhelming sense that the system is rigged against justice rather than bending towards it. They too need champions. While countless legal advocates avail themselves of WSBA services, many don’t. And those applying to serve on the Board of Governors should care deeply about how the membership uses programming, from free and low-cost CLE offerings, New Lawyer Education, and the Lawyers Assistance Program (LAP) to the Law Office Management Assistance Program (LOMAP) and MentorLink, to name a few. Ensuring the success of these programs is only part of the Board’s duties; we must do so while offering a voice for members who are juggling personal and professional obligations, facing fatigue, tackling student debt, transitioning to a new practice area, or retiring from the profession entirely.
So, let’s be real. Whoever sets policies and procedures for the bar should do so through a prism of sound governance and inclusivity. Being effective means celebrating and expanding diversity and inclusion efforts. It means compassionately honoring the organization’s mission by speaking out against inequity and injustice for both the public and the membership. It means gaining a familiarity with different areas of practice from your own. It means nominating and appointing exceptional and diverse talent to serve on WSBA and Supreme Court-created committees, boards and task forces. It means better positioning volunteers from marginalized groups for leadership in the legal profession within Washington and across the nation. It means understanding the disciplinary and regulatory framework, and developing an acumen for policy making for the future of the profession. It means actively listening to and understanding the concerns of people from all walks of life. More importantly, it means visibly and unapologetically demonstrating that the needs of the public and the membership are not invisible to you.