College Columns May 2017 | Page 10

Judicial Fellows Diversity Initiative: It's Just A Beginning

Hon. Laurel M. Isicoff 1

in the bankruptcy field is even more challenging. Around the country judges, bar associations and practitioners have various diversity initiatives, reaching out to students in high schools and colleges to encourage law as a career choice, and reaching out to students in law schools to encourage bankruptcy as a field of practice.

The judicial fellows of the American College of Bankruptcy are committed to diversity and, over the past year, have been working on an initiative to gather information about various diversity projects around the country, highlight a few, and push this information out to our colleagues, judicial and non-judicial. We formed four subgroups, to look at programs focused on high school outreach, college outreach, law school outreach and minority bar association outreach. For example, Judge Jeffrey Hopkins told us about a program in Ohio called The Law and Leadership Institute. The Institute is a statewide initiative in Ohio in collaboration with the legal and educational communities that inspires and prepares students from underserved communities for post-secondary and professional success. The comprehensive four-year curriculum includes the study of law, analytical thinking, problem solving and writing as well as opportunities to develop leadership skills and professionalism both inside and outside of the classroom. The nearly 1,000 students served through the program have received 700 hours of tuition-free programming and boasts a 100% high school graduation rate with 95% of participants being admitted to college. Learn more at

Judge Maureen Tighe has been working on a college outreach program of primarily disadvantaged students that includes a college pre-law club scheduled for a mock trial/meet legal professionals day at the courthouse in October. Judge Tighe is hoping to supplement the outreach with some speaking and writing skills workshops as well as several mock trial opportunities. I recently put together a program at University of Miami School of Law. The panel was made up of five minority attorneys, all of whom are well known and widely respected and none of whom are sports and entertainment lawyers - including a corporate lawyer who is the managing partner of the Miami office of Greenberg Traurig, and a bankruptcy attorney who recently left a large law firm and started her own practice (she also was my first law clerk). The panel spoke to a group of about 40 law students about their practices, and their journeys that brought them to those fields of law and to their firms. The panel was mediated by the president of the U of M Black Law Student's Association (and my intern from Summer of 2016). Judge Margaret Mann recently spoke on a panel on Effective Legal Writing and invited several minority bar associations to attend. The Bankruptcy Bar Association of the Southern District of Florida just had a young lawyers' mingle and pro bono event with the Cuban American Bar Association. And these are just a few examples.

Where do you fit in? Every one of us has the opportunity to improve diversity in the law, in our practices, in College membership. There are so many programs with which you can get involved at every level. If you are interested in seeing the list the Judicial Outreach Committee has put together, please let me know. While it is still being "made pretty", the information is all there. Indeed, it is our intent to make our list into an all-encompassing database. To that end, if you are involved with, or you are aware of, any diversity outreach program in your area, please let me know. The more information we have, the more useful our information can be.

In the meantime, start with yourself. Take on


Two years ago, the ABA reported that the bankruptcy bench is the least diverse of the federal judiciary. While those numbers are improving there is a still a long way to go. Diversity in the law continues to be a challenge, and diversity in the bankruptcy field is even more

1Judge Isicoff is the Chief Judge of the Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of Florida, a member of Class XVII of the College, and Chair of the Judicial Outreach Committee.