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Education conclave focuses on diversity, economy

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When the Indiana State Bar Association gets law students, attorneys, professors, judges, court administrators, deans, and representatives of Indiana’s Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, Disciplinary Commission, Board of Law Examiners, and the Indiana Bar Foundation are all in the same place for a few hours, some interesting dialogues are bound to take place.

That was the goal when at least 100 members of the legal community met for the ISBA’s fourth Legal Education Conclave at Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis Sept. 24-25.

Among the focuses for this year’s conclave, which takes place every few years, were diversity, ethics, and stress among lawyers and law students. While all four Indiana law schools were represented, this year’s co-chairs were Gail G. Peshel, assistant dean of career services at University of Notre Dame Law School; and Chasity Q. Thompson, assistant dean of professional development for I.U. School of Law – Indianapolis.

Gary Roberts Roberts

Keynote speakers and breakout sessions addressed these topics, as well as the issues of educating lawyers in a changing economy, a comparison of alternative and traditional fee arrangements, and how technology affects Indiana practitioners.

University of Notre Dame Law School Dean Emeritus Father David T. Link opened the event Sept. 24 with a discussion about the role of ethics for lawyers and law students, including examples from his roles as dean and prison chaplain. Father Link was dean of the law school from 1975 to 1999, and continues to teach ethics.

The conversation continued Sept. 25 when Kim M. Boyle of the New Orleans firm Phelps Dunbar and the first African-American woman president of the Louisiana State Bar Association opened that day’s activities with a keynote address about diversity. Boyle is also a former assistant professor of law at Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans and spoke about how students view the troubled economy.

Brita Horvath Horvath

Another topic she discussed is when law firms focus more on lateral hires, they are less likely to improve their diversity, even though law school graduating classes are more diverse in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, and other factors.

She also participated in a breakout session about the topic. That session included a panel made up of Indianapolis solo employment attorney Michael Dalrymple; Lake Superior Judge Calvin D. Hawkins; Vanderburgh Superior Magistrate Jill Marcrum; Camille Wiggins, a staff attorney of the Indiana Supreme Court and member of the Commission on Race and Gender Fairness; and G. Michael Witte, a former Dearborn Superior judge and the new Indiana Disciplinary Commission executive secretary. Merrillville attorney Michael Tolbert, past president of the James Kimbrough Bar Association, a minority bar association based in northwest Indiana, moderated the discussion.

Among the topics were how to define diversity; what has been done to address diversity; and what the legal community still needs to do to address a lack of diversity, especially in communities that aren’t very diverse.

Another topic was why Latinos were left off of the panel, a question asked by Marion Superior Judge Jose Salinas, which – in a round about way – led to Judge Hawkins’ discussion about how what one sees isn’t always what’s there.

Judge Hawkins shared an experience of working in Washington, D.C., when he thought one of his colleagues ignored him in the hallways because the judge is African-American and his colleague was white. The judge later learned that his colleague was legally blind, and likely didn’t see him when they passed in the hall. That discussion is available on the ISBA’s Facebook page.

Brita Horvath, diversity and pro bono coordinator for Baker & Daniels, said that breakout was particularly interesting to her.

The discussion “confirms what we already know – that our traditional methods of recruiting are not necessarily effective” when it comes to improving diversity in all areas of the legal community, she said. To have more attention paid to the issue of diversity, “We need to develop leadership and diversity in law schools, on the bench, in the bar – in order to reach diverse constituents.”

Anne Ricchiuto Ricchiuto

Anne K. Ricchiuto, an associate at Baker & Daniels and a member of the conclave’s planning committee, attended breakout sessions about “resiliency in the face of stress,” and a session about technology.

She said the resiliency session was particularly effective because panelists Don Lundberg, of Barnes & Thornburg and former executive secretary of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission; and G. Andrew H. Benjamin, a psychologist and lawyer from Seattle, spoke about how lawyers can start to have mental health and substance abuse issues as early as their first year of law school, which can last throughout their careers.

For instance, while law students generally are at the same level as others before they start law school when it comes to mental health and substance abuse issues – if not healthier – even after the first year things can start to go downhill.

Ricchiuto said two of the benefits of that session were for those in the room to learn more about how lawyers can have trouble as early as law school and the coping strategies Benjamin discussed.

ted waggoner Waggoner

“Even if it was just for an hour and a half, people in the room gave serious thought to which things are in our control and how can we manage those things, and which things are outside of our control and how to minimize the impact of those things,” she said.

Another planning committee member, Ted A. Waggoner of Peterson & Waggoner in Rochester, agreed that Benjamin’s presentation was thought provoking.

“I met Andy Benjamin the night before; he impressed me as a psychologist and as a law professor. He also teaches a solo practice course like the one I teach in Bloomington,” he said.

“He gave us a quiz on our values and aspirations to help us see how the practice of law has led us to certain places in life and what we individually are getting out of our practices,” he said. The point of the exercise was to help the participants understand what they want to get out of their careers and how to get that, “so we don’t end up being one of the sad cases.”

Benjamin’s PowerPoint presentation is available as a link on the ISBA’s Facebook page.

Following two rounds of breakout sessions and lunch, Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, an active participant in the conclave, concluded the event with a call to action regarding various issues discussed at the conclave.

“The whole concept of the conclave was to address how the profession is changing, and to address how structures, values, and diversity are getting hit by the current legal economy,” Waggoner said.

“People are suffering financially in ways we haven’t seen in the lifetime of most attorneys, which the keynote speakers also addressed when they spoke about diversity. Students are in a different world than what the older attorneys grew up in … and the economy is causing additional stress and additional problems,” he said.

I.U. School of Law – Indianapolis Dean Gary Roberts attended the conclave but said via e-mail that he was disappointed in the breakout session topics.

“There was nothing focused on how the bar and law schools can work together to bring about change in the academy that will result in students being better prepared for practice and leadership when they graduate, and how the schools can accomplish this in a more efficient manner in an era of declining revenues and a contracting job market,” he said.

Following the conclave, co-chairs Thompson and Peshel received information from the breakout sessions and discussions of participants, which they have been compiling into a report. Action items and future plans to implement these action items from that report will be announced at the ISBA’s annual meeting, which starts Oct. 13. A final report from conclave organizers will be released early next year.•

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