By President Emilio Varanini and
Chair of the Board of Representatives Betty Williams
California is set to fully reopen on June 15th following more than a year of pandemic restrictions, which has affected us all. This month also marks the Juneteenth commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. While we celebrate Juneteenth, we also acknowledge that slavery and racism have left a mark on all of us, especially on the hearts of every Black American.
We take this opportunity to recognize both of these turning points and share what our association has been doing recently to not only advance diversity, equity, and inclusion but also make sure we emerge from the shutdown stronger than ever.
In that spirit of celebrating Juneteenth, we invite you to join CLA’s 21-day Racial Equity Challenge.
We also appreciate and welcome all of the recent activities aimed at combating increased incidents of hate and violence. We’ve spoken out against this disturbing trend. Read our statement on Anti-Asian Violence, followed by our statement on Anti-Semitism. We offer resources you may use to interrupt bias, including our April 27, 2021, webinar hosted with the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Los Angeles County (APABA) and Organization of Chinese Americans – Greater Los Angeles the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
Against this backdrop, our board has been hard at work on a number of initiatives that will prepare our association to come out of the pandemic stronger than ever and set us up for long-term success.
Reopening does not mean going back to business as usual. We’re taking this opportunity to reimagine what the organization can be by listening to your feedback and putting it into a strategic plan.
Our Sections are doing incredible work to educate our members and improve the legal profession. For example, the Privacy Law Section has proposed that privacy law be a recognized specialization for certification by the State Bar of California. Our International Law and Immigration Section is reaching out to bar associations across the world to forge ties and promote the rule of law.
We continue to partner with the California Lawyers Foundation to advance access to justice, civics engagement, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Most recently, we:
- Joined the ABA’s FreeLegalAnswers Limited Scope Pro Bono Project. It provides assistance to low-income Californians facing evictions, changes in spousal support and custody, and consumer and employment issues as a result of COVID 19. Find out more at https://www.freelegalanswers.org.
- Produced two new videos about employer rights when it comes to vaccines in the workplace, which are available in English and Spanish. The video series won the National Conference of Bar Foundations LexisNexis Partnership for Success Award.
- Launched a comic book, “What Do Lawyers and Judges Do,” to engage students at an early age about the role of lawyers and judges in our society.
- Created the Diverse Lawyers Video Project. Capturing the many pathways of diverse attorneys into practice as a series of short-form videos, our 12 videos so far can be used by lawyers and teachers in the classroom.
- Partnered with the Foundation, ChangeLawyers, Sections, and others to offer scholarships and stipends to law students practicing in rural areas, diverse law students, and post-grads in the State Bar’s Provisional Licensing Program.
We’re also working to make sure the courts and supporting legal organizations have the resources they need. We have written to state lawmakers in support of:
- Supplemental $20 million in funding for the legal aid organizations that provide direct assistance to low-income Californians. The primary funding source, through the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA), dropped from $46 million to $26 million from 2019 to 2020 and is projected to fall to $20 million in 2021.
- Supplemental funding for county law libraries, which provide access to legal information for people who can’t afford to hire lawyers to represent them.
- SB 770, which would expand the California LAW (Leadership, Access, Workforce) pathways, a statewide initiative that creates a model pipeline of diverse students from high schools, community colleges, four-year institutions, and law schools into law or law-related careers.
As we celebrate Juneteenth and reopen our state, we commit to continuing the important work led by our volunteers and professional staff to keep moving CLA forward and focused on our core mission.