By Oyango A. Snell, Esq.
Some F-words get a bad rap, if you know what I mean. But I am here to tell you about one of the best F-words that I know. It’s foundation, as in the California Lawyers Foundation (CLF).
You may know me as the CEO and Executive Director of the California Lawyers Association (CLA) and now, the CEO and Executive Director of CLF. But how did I become a lawyer in the first place?
Well, my path to the legal profession was not accidental, but the pathway was far from planned and intentional. When I think about why I became an attorney, I recognize that it was my determination to outsmart everyone that drove me. I was a kid who pushed the limits in school and often found myself in detention. A school librarian saw potential in me and made it possible for me to dream of being better and bigger than my socioeconomic status or demographic background to become a lawyer. It is a long story filled with struggle and success, but I was determined to beat the odds. I became strategic about getting myself into a position to not only be heard, but to lead. The truth is that even in a diverse state like California, the legal profession and the judiciary have a long way to go before the demographics align with the general population of our state. I am an unapologetic champion for women and people of color in society and most certainly in the legal profession.
Perhaps that is why I am proud to serve CLF to deliver on its mission to drive the path forward for youth who have been challenged or burdened by systemic odds or disparate impacts because of their economic status, ethnic or racial background, ability, gender, or sexual orientation. Because we all know that when you believe in something and have the mindset of an attorney, anything is possible.
The story of CLF began at the inception of CLA. Established as the charitable arm and partner of CLA to promote diversity and inclusion and fair administration of justice, the Foundation focuses its work on three critical areas:
First, expanding Access to Justice for Californians, making the justice system more available to people in need throughout the state. Second, enhancing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) in the legal profession by actively building educational pathways for diverse youth to consider a legal career helping to ensure that the legal profession is reflective of California’s diverse population. Finally, increasing Civic Outreach and Engagement to educate Californians, especially our youth, about the judicial branch, the role of lawyers, and the rule of law.
In its first three years of operation, CLF has awarded more than $450,000 to California organizations that are actively working to enhance diversity in the legal profession and achieve fairness in the administration of justice and the rule of law. Now in its fourth year, CLF will award an additional $350,000 in grant funding to qualifying organizations to increase access to justice, enhance civics education for K-12 students, and eliminate financial and academic hurdles for students of color and students from low-income communities who want to pursue a career in law.
As a community of attorneys and attorney-influencers, we believe it is our social responsibility to contribute to a fair and just society where Californians thrive. In a little more than three years, our staff and volunteers have actively developed and funded projects in alignment with these three areas of need in California. We have either built programs from scratch or partnered with other nonprofits to deliver on the long-held premise that lawyers help people when they need it most.
Here is where I challenge you to make Foundation your favorite F-word too!
Our CLA members recognize the importance of bringing in new and more diverse members to the bar association and the legal industry. It is necessary as we grow, and we are willing and able to help facilitate pathways to diversifying the legal profession. In fact, we built an organization to make it possible! And that is the California Lawyers Foundation!
In the words of our CLF Board President, Jim Holmes, “We do great stuff, and our work ensures that diversifying the pathway to the legal profession is addressed at critical areas–in elementary school throughout the first years of an attorney.” So, get involved! Visit our website to learn about volunteer opportunities. Make a tax-deductible contribution to CLF and help us accelerate our work. Any amount is appreciated but let me suggest some more F-words; maybe a fifty, a franklin ($100), five hundred, or five thousand dollars. We will take all the F’s you are willing to give to help mitigate the burdens to access justice, increase diversity of the pathway to the legal profession, and enhance civics education and outreach.
About Oyango A. Snell
Oyango A. Snell is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Executive Director of California Lawyers Association. Known for his energetic leadership and endless innovation, Snell transforms organizations and the team he represents through the execution of transparent business practices, human development, and empowerment. With over 15 years of association management and leadership experience, Snell challenges internal and external stakeholders to think beyond the impossible to enhance the quality of service, increase revenue streams, and develop and enhance advocacy strategies.