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  • October 16, 2013

    State Bar Creates Diversity Task Force, Renews Efforts for Genuine Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession

    The State Bar of Wisconsin is committed to promoting and encouraging diversity in Wisconsin’s legal profession. In this article, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Carl Ashley, chair of the State Bar’s Diversity Task Force, explains those efforts and asks for member participation to assist the Task Force in its work on this important issue.

    Carl AshleyOct. 16, 2013 – The State Bar of Wisconsin has been struggling with the issue of how to develop a more diverse and inclusive legal profession in Wisconsin for decades, as have other states across the country.

    And, although efforts continue, the complexity of the issues makes it difficult for the State Bar, which is vested in achieving greater inclusion in the profession to accomplish this goal. In 2012, the State Bar approved and adopted the following declaration:

    The State Bar of Wisconsin is an inclusive organization committed to recognizing, respecting, promoting and encouraging diversity among its leadership, its membership and the entire legal community. We encourage all local and specialty bars to promote diversity and inclusion in their membership and leadership. We encourage legal employers and law firms to promote diversity and inclusion within their workplaces to mirror the world in which we practice.

    The State Bar has taken on several activities in support of diversity and inclusion, but the lack of genuine diversity remains a disappointment.

    Under leadership of State Bar President Patrick J. Fiedler, Immediate-Past President Kevin Klei, President-Elect Robert Gagan, and Executive Director George Brown, the State Bar has created the Diversity Task Force to reexamine its role in promoting and furthering diversity in Wisconsin’s legal profession. The following is the Task Force’s charge:

    The charge of the Diversity Task Force is to determine the role of the State Bar in promoting and furthering diversity within the law schools, the profession and the State Bar by identifying an approach to diversity that will serve the Wisconsin legal profession. This includes creating the State Bar’s definition of “diversity,” a future committee structure, and organization-wide diversity initiatives as well as the future of the Diversity Clerkship Program and diversity based CLE programs. In addition, the Task Force will develop an action plan for the implementation of identified changes to create leadership opportunities for diverse lawyers within Wisconsin and the legal profession and articulate how diversity should inform, shape and influence the work of the State Bar across the organization.

    The Task Force is committed to taking a candid look at the state of diversity in the Wisconsin legal profession and exploring how we establish real advancement. The Diversity Task Force consists of 13 volunteer members: Hon. Carl Ashley, Atty. Michelle Behnke, Atty. Andrew Chevrez, Atty. Kathleen Chung, Prof. Vada Lindsey, Atty. Bruce Lindl, Atty. Maureen McGinnity, Atty. Cory Nettles, Atty. Carlos Ortiz, Asst. Dean Rebecca Scheller, Atty. Jo Swamp, Atty. Starlyn Tourtillott, and Atty. Gregory Wesley.

    In addition, we are extremely pleased to have Sonabai Kanhai staff our group. We are planning several listening sessions, and we may be asking you to participate in surveys to help inform and support our recommendations. We are scheduled to have initial recommendations in March 2014.

    The Task Force needs your help. We appreciate some of you will consider responding to this new effort as just another gesture without any real potential to effect change and, quite frankly, I understand your skepticism.

    I can assure you however, that the Task Force takes our charge very seriously and is determined to make recommendations that will move the needle on diversity. If you have reservations or suggestions, we ask you to communicate them to us, either directly to me or to any of the Task Force members, so we can consider your concerns. Comments for the Task Force can be submitted to Sonabai Kanhai, State Bar Liaison, by email to

    The status quo is not an acceptable option for the Bar or the Wisconsin Legal System because the legal profession faces no greater challenge than the imperative to advance diversity throughout our state. It is incumbent upon each one of us to do something that will make a real difference.

    Carl Ashley
    Circuit Court Judge
    Chair of Diversity Task Force

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