I am the son of Mexican immigrants who, like so many others, came to the United States in the early part of the last century seeking a better life for themselves. I grew up in Los Angeles, a product of its public schools, and was fortunate enough to attend college and law school with substantial financial assistance from those schools.
Unlike a number of my peers, who knew early on that they wanted to be a lawyer, I made that decision after I had graduated from college, thinking it was a good option to develop a career in law or some other profession, even though I had never met a lawyer or even a judge. I have never looked back.
Over the years, first as an attorney and later as a judge, I have been committed to building a pipeline to the legal profession, starting with children in middle school and continuing into their college years. Hispanics are significantly underrepresented in the legal field, and in order to change that, it is crucial that we bring awareness of opportunities in the legal profession to students at an early age. One startling statistic is that 38% of the California population is Hispanic/Latino, yet only 6% of the attorneys in California are Hispanic/Latino. Of course, there are many reasons why minorities and people of color are disproportionately underrepresented in our profession, but that should not deter us from taking these first steps.
It is undisputed that diversity in all aspects of our justice system is essential in building trust and confidence in that system and that such representation adds to the appearance as well as the substance of fairness and due process. The benefits for society, our global economy and the development of future leaders in the public and private sectors are obvious.
Pipeline programs are the key to diversifying the legal profession. They provide foundational knowledge about what lawyers do in the broad arena of the law; they offer direct access to lawyers and judges as mentors; they enhance lawyerly and test-taking skills; they open access to internship and financial aid opportunities; and they provide overall academic support to and build confidence in participants in the programs.
Throughout my career, through my service on various boards and equal access commissions, I have had the privilege of witnessing various programs and initiatives that actively support the advancement of diversity within the legal profession. My hope is that these examples serve as not only inspiration but also a guide for others who want to foster diversity in the legal field:
- JAMS Diversity Fellowship Program: As part of our commitment to increasing the pool of diverse neutrals, JAMS offers training, mentorship and sponsorship opportunities to aspiring alternative dispute resolution (ADR) professionals from diverse backgrounds. In addition to increasing opportunities in dispute resolution, the fellowship also assists with diversity recruitment in key JAMS markets.
- Diversity pledges: JAMS partnered with other ADR providers to support diverse neutrals through the signing of the Ray Corollary Initiative (RCI) Pledge. The initiative encourages ADR providers to include at least 30% diverse neutral candidates and drive accountability by tracking selections from those slates or rosters.
- Affinity bar associations: JAMS actively supports numerous affinity bar organizations. These organizations seek to improve the business opportunities available to their members by publicizing job opportunities in the private and public sectors, as well as by supporting member efforts to be appointed to serve in the judiciary.
In addition, I am honored that MLG Attorneys at Law recently named their state-of-the-art mock courtroom after me. The grand opening of the Justice Carlos R. Moreno Courtroom will foster collaboration, diversity and the highest standards of legal advocacy within the legal community, which is something I am passionate about. This cutting-edge facility will allow attorneys to refine trial strategies with the goal of more effectively representing clients. I’m proud to have my name on this Costa Mesa, California facility.
I often reflect on my path in the legal profession: starting as a deputy city attorney, working in private practice and then serving on the judiciary for 25 years. Certainly, I received much advice and timely assistance in the process. But there is no question in my mind that I would have been better informed and greatly benefited from the kinds of legal pipeline programs that seek to build a path to greater diversity in our legal profession.
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