Former Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard’s commitment to diversity will continue thanks to a permanent fund that aims to expand on his pioneering efforts to make the legal profession more reflective of society at large.
Several hundred friends, colleagues and dignitaries gathered May 10 for a gala in Shepard’s honor that had the dual purpose of establishing a namesake fund through the Indiana Bar Foundation.
Organizers of the Randall T. Shepard Fund for Diversity in the Legal Profession hope to raise $150,000 in a drive that kicked off with the celebration of the former chief justice’s tenure on the Indiana Supreme Court.
“The fund came about after a lot of thinking about what would be a fitting tribute to Chief Justice Shepard’s body of work on one hand, and also something that would be aligned with one or more of his many interests and spheres of influence over his career,” said Myra Selby, the first African-American and first female justice on the Indiana Supreme Court.
Selby, now a partner with Ice Miller, and Indiana State Bar Association past-president Rod Morgan were instrumental in creating the fund and are co-chairs of the fundraising effort. Morgan, a partner with Bingham Greenebaum Doll, said Shepard’s commitment to diversity was unusual for a chief justice.
Morgan pointed out Shepard’s involvement in urging the creation and oversight of the Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunity program, which each year supports a class of about 30 incoming law students who demonstrate need. Out of about 400 ICLEO fellows since the program’s inception, about 75 percent have completed law school.
“He didn’t have to do that, but I think that shows his commitment to making our legal system better in the state of Indiana,” Morgan said.
Shepard said he was humbled by the honors, but wished not to look at the event as a retirement dinner.
“To gather with a purpose beyond tribute – that of building our profession’s long-term commitment to equal opportunity – likewise states a powerful message about Indiana lawyers,” he said.
“Indiana’s legal profession needn’t stare down at its shoes and shuffle when people talk about lawyers. Indiana lawyers have earned the right to look our fellow citizens straight on and say, ‘We have done what it lies within us to do,’” Shepard said at the gala.
John Trimble, partner with Lewis Wagner, said those who turned out to honor Shepard represented “a who’s who audience” of the legal community.
“It underscored what he had done for the reputation of the state of Indiana and the judiciary of the state of Indiana,” Trimble said. “When you talk about diversity and the chief justice, it’s also about advancement of women in our profession.”
It was 1997 when the ICLEO program, long recommended by Shepard, was signed into law by then-Gov. Frank O’Bannon.
“The legal profession, like many other walks of life, was a place where, maybe perhaps two generations ago, it was very difficult for African-Americans and Latinos to gain access,” Shepard said. “A long objective has been to create a profession that is open to people of all races and ethnic backgrounds to effect the sort of transformation that has likewise occurred with men and women.”
Morgan remembers those different times not so long ago, too.
“I grew up here in Indianapolis, and I left after high school to go to college in 1966,” Morgan said. “And the town I left in 1966 was not the town I returned to in 1991. We weren’t diverse ... especially in our profession.”
Selby, who served with Shepard on the Supreme Court from 1995 to 1999 agreed that his efforts to improve diversity in the legal system merit recognition.
“Chief Justice Shepard was a great and wonderful colleague in every way. He was an ideal chief in that he valued the role of chief as well as the importance of how the chief interacts with the other justices to make the court work well,” Selby said. “He just made going to work each day and doing the important work we did so much more pleasurable.”
Selby serves as chair of the Indiana Supreme Court Commission on Race and Gender Fairness. As well as supporting ICLEO, the fund in Shepard’s name will promote the goals of the commission and diversity efforts of local and state bar associations.
“There has been a great deal of improvement across the board, from who we see standing up to say ‘I want to go to law school,’ to who is entering the profession, all the way to the leadership within the profession,” Selby said. “However, I would say we really still have a long way to go and much work before us.”
The fund in Shepard’s name will enhance those continuing efforts to improve diversity in the legal profession, said Chuck Dunlap, executive director of the Indiana Bar Foundation.
Making a difference
Rudolph “Rudy” Pyle III is among the hundreds of aspiring attorneys who have been assisted by the ICLEO program.
“We really owe a debt of gratitude to Chief Justice Shepard,” said Pyle, who shared his perspective as a former ICLEO Fellow.
“The most meaningful thing the program did for me was just to put me in touch with a number of people who mentored me,” Pyle said.
ICLEO fellows attend a summer institute that Shepard calls a “boot camp” for incoming law students at one of the state’s four law schools. Fellows are provided mentoring and networking opportunities and residency programs.
For Pyle, that included an internship at the Indiana Court of Appeals that led to a full-time job there. It also helped him in his hometown of Anderson, where he became a deputy prosecutor and in October 2009 was appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels as the first African-American judge in Madison County.
“It started out with the Indiana CLEO program,” Pyle said.
Shepard said the results of ICLEO speak for themselves.
“There are a number of things that CLEO tries to do to help students succeed, and they do,” he said. “Over the period since CLEO started (in 1997), we have been able to double the number of minority lawyers in Indiana.”
Trimble said his firm has provided clerk opportunities for ICLEO fellows since the program began.
“The lawyers who have gone through that are the rising stars of the legal profession and they are spread out throughout the state of Indiana,” he said.
Trimble said Shepard deserves credit for his vision. “What he hoped would happen was to educate diverse lawyers and persuade then to stay in Indiana, and that has happened.”•