October 2020 Bar Bulletin
At the QFC where I shop, I always save a few bucks for the passionate guy hawking Real Change, a progressive newspaper focusing on homelessness and poverty.
I confess I don’t read all of it, but I like the idea that the vendors are themselves homeless or otherwise on society’s edges. Long before George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers, readers of Real Change were challenged to acknowledge income disparity, institutional racism and the murder and incarceration of black men.
Now that the marching for racial justice has slowed in many places, we are challenged as lawyers and Americans to hold on to our passion for change and to make it real.
Martin Luther King, Jr. put the call to action like this:
If you can’t fly, then run,
If you can’t run, then walk,
If you can’t walk, then crawl,
But whatever you do,
You have to keep moving forward.
So how do we as lawyers move forward? How can we take action that changes for the better our justice system, the practice of law and how we live our lives in pursuit of equality, human rights and fairness toward all?
At KCBA, we have begun this work in earnest, but realize we have a long way to go before we can fully join the ranks of those dedicated to real change. Or as Martin put it, we must crawl or walk before we can run or fly.
We have started by acknowledging that seeking diversity in our leadership ranks and in our sections and committees is only the start. We must challenge our leadership, including our staff to reevaluate our programs through a race and equity lens. Does our pro bono and staff supported legal assistance serve the most vulnerable and the most in need in our society, including those who carry the burden and legacy of institutional racism? Are we working to protect the rights of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and persons of color) families who have been marginalized by bank lending practices or by schools who lack funding because of the race or ethnicity of its students? Are KCBA’s member services relevant to all of our lawyers in King County, especially those who carry the weight of racism and discrimination?
These are only a few of the questions a renewed KCBA will be asking over the coming months.
As KCBA President, I have taken steps with the support of our Board of Trustees to revitalize our Nominations and Leadership Committee, who are responsible for nominating KCBA officers and board members. Kim Tran, a former KCBA President and Microsoft lawyer will lead the committee with five new members, all lawyers of color who understand the urgency of transforming the work we do: Brian Cadousteau of DLA Piper, Sarah Elerson of Helsell Fetterman, Mary Sakaguchi a family law lawyer in Bellevue at Sakaguchi and Reese, and retired King County Superior Court Judge Mariane Spearman.
They know we must not only change the faces of KCBA leadership, but the work we do in our communities to bring real change.
We have begun the process of evaluating and communicating with our committees, already working hard to provide programs relating to COVID-19 and the huge challenges facing us during this horrific global pandemic. Each KCBA committee and section will commit to advancing diversity in its leadership and membership. Together, we will seek to identify programs and build skill sets designed to address the role of legal institutions in combating racism and removing obstacles to full participation in our profession by lawyers. Thank you to KCBA Second Vice President Carl Forsberg who is helping to lead this effort.
Much of what KCBA accomplishes now and in the future, will be supported and lead by our dedicated staff. Whether serving our membership directly or supporting critically important pro bono and staff supported legal assistance, KCBA staff know first-hand the role race has played in marginalizing communities and depriving many of rights and protections offered by our laws.
However, we must and can do better, and our Board of Trustees has recognized this by commencing a search for our next KCBA Executive Director who will place KCBA at the forefront of the fight for racial justice.
KCBA First Vice President K.M. Das and former Columbia Legal Services head Ada Shen-Jaffe lead our search committee. A diverse and dedicated group along with a broadly represented advisory committee are engaged in a nation-wide effort to find and assist our Board in hiring an Executive Director who will help us realize our potential. I am grateful to the advisory committee for their assistance and particularly thank search committee members Neal Black, David Perez, Kelly Noonan, Sharon Sakamoto and Sidney Tribe. You can access the recently released KCBA Executive Director position description and contact any member of the search committee for more information.
While I am expressing gratitude, I want to thank U.S. District Judge Richard Jones and our committee working on a virtual substitute for one of our signature events, the MLK Luncheon. Committee members, led by Judge Jones, have challenged themselves and KCBA to consider how Martin Luther King, Jr. would respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and its disparate and cruel impact on communities of color.
The KCBA MLK Luncheon committee have reimagined both the format and some of the purpose of this popular event. Look for more information on a series of presentations you can attend virtually, as well as ways to contribute to fight food insecurity and create opportunity for those suffering in these difficult times.
Let us work together to make real the calls we have heard for social change and the end of racism in our community and nation.
The guy selling my newspaper says it best every time he calls out, “REAL CHANGE,” “REAL CHANGE.”
Let us all listen and may we all act.
John McKay is the President of the King County Bar ssociation and a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.