PRESIDENT’S PAGE December 2021

Achieving a Truly Equal Outcome

Before I launch into my message regarding equity—the “E” in R.I.D.E., I want to acknowledge the beginning of the holiday season and the end of yet another calendar year. The pandemic made us more aware of how small the world really is and how interdependent we are. Time with family and friends is much more precious. We have heightened appreciation for the frontline workers in health care, public safety, truck drivers, grocery store personnel, and others who showed up every day so we could have the things we needed. As a profession we have demonstrated resilience and continued to serve our clients, communities, and the rule of law.

Now it is time to celebrate and look forward to better days. We are strengthened by the trials and tribulations we have endured as we step forward into 2022. We are ready to meet new challenges and to make the world a little better for those who come after us.

Which brings us back to the topic at hand—equity. From the correspondence I have received in response to my earlier columns, I know the concept of equity needs explanation.

Some emailers espoused the view that as a community of professionals, we should strive for equality, not equity. Those lawyers are exactly right. Equality—treating everyone equally—is the ultimate goal. But to stop the conversation there assumes that everyone is starting out on equal footing. As much as we want that to be true, we know that is not the case.

Equality provides everyone with the same resources, regardless of their circumstances and the barriers they may have to access those resources.

Equity realizes that people have different circumstances and allocates resources and opportunities necessary to achieve a truly equal outcome.

One real-world example to help illustrate the difference comes from sports. There is a reason the starting lines on an oval racetrack are staggered. If every runner started at the same line, some would have to run farther and faster to have a chance at winning. Can those starting at a disadvantage overcome and achieve greatness? Absolutely. Some exceptional individuals might be able to overcome the deficit. But if our goal is equality, why would we require someone to be exemplary only to achieve what another is afforded by being average?

Why should lawyers be concerned about finding a way to level the playing field? As we strive for more diversity in the profession, we need to consider the additional challenges and burdens individuals who come from other than “mainstream” backgrounds face when they undertake to study law, or practice at a firm or in a community where they will be in the minority for one reason or another. We should want to find ways to create opportunities for them to be successful. This will not only assist the individuals directly involved, but by promoting diversity, it will also help build and maintain the public’s trust in the profession.

I am pleased to report law schools around the state have embraced the concept of equity. For example, St. Mary’s University School of Law held a boot camp for students who are the first in their family to study law. Students were provided with access to additional resources to support them as they began their studies. I could not help but be a little envious. I did not even know a lawyer to ask for advice when I decided to go to law school.

I have watched with great interest as my friends and colleagues have sent their children off to law schools armed with the confidence and knowledge that comes from having a mom who is a judge or hanging out at your dad’s law office after school. I have also enjoyed hearing about the phone calls from those same students to their parents with questions about first-year law school cases and legal concepts. That kind of support is priceless.

Programs to assist first-generation law students bridge the gap that exists because they do not have the same life experiences or someone to call—that is equity.

Many of us have been able to run a little faster and harder to reach the same finish line on the oval track, but why should we have to when, with a little effort, our chances at success are equalized? If we want more diversity in the profession, we must continue to find ways to level the playing field.

I wish you all the blessings of the holiday season and good health, joy, and prosperity in 2022.



Sylvia Borunda Firth
President, 2021-2022
State Bar of Texas


Sylvia Borunda Firth can be reached by email at sylvia.firth@texasbar.com..TBJ

 

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