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Bar President's Message


Richard D'Addario, Esq., President, Rhode Island Bar Association

Diversity, Equity, and Inlcusion

Mark B. Morse, Esq.
President, Rhode Island Bar Association

“There were never in the world two opinions alike, no more than two hairs or two grains; the most universal quality is diversity.”

De Montaigne, Michel Eyquem, Essays, Book II, ch. 37. (1580)

A primary emphasis for this year, and continuing into the future, is the Bar’s focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Immediate Past President Lynda Laing wrote about this in her President’s Message in the May/June 2022 issue of the Bar Journal and voiced many of the concerns that led to the establishment of our DEI Committee. I promised Lynda and the Bar Association that I would do all that I could to continue this important work.

 The charge of the DEI Committee is straight-forward and compelling:

The Committee will meet regularly to discuss DEI-related matters of interest to the membership and to make recommendations that will foster a sense of equity and inclusion among members. The Committee will also propose DEI-related CLE and Annual Meeting programming, networking events with affinity legal organizations, and resources for the membership.

Thus, by its terms, the work of the DEI Committee will permeate throughout Bar Association activities to encourage diversity and inclusion among our membership. It will, justifiably so, impact our committees and our legal education programs. Through this process, we hope to make our Bar Association stronger to help us deliver justice with a greater appreciation and perspective of views that are often underrepresented or faintly heard.

The RI Bar Association DEI Committee is chaired by Sarah Oster Kelly and Hamza Chaudary. The Committee was formed as a result of a Task Force chaired by RI Superior Court Associate Justice Linda Rekas Sloan in 2021 following a call to action from bar associations across the country. The Task Force was formed in an effort to integrate diverse perspectives in our activities and educational programming and to encourage and cultivate social intercourse among all members of the Rhode Island Bar, elevate attorneys of diverse backgrounds to positions of leadership within the Association, and promote interest in the practice of law among diverse populations. One of the first steps the Task Force took to accomplish these goals was by conducting an online survey among the Bar membership concerning members’ experiences with DEI-related issues within the practice. Following the survey and a year of intense meetings, the Task Force made recommendations to the Bar Association Executive Committee. The Executive Committee, with slight modification, approved the recommendations for presentation and approval by the House of Delegates.

Featured among the Task Force’s recommendations is a pledge which invites law firms and legal departments to commit to encouraging DEI within their ranks. The Pledge is aspirational and voluntary. Also included is a DEI Action Plan Checklist that illustrates specific tasks that can be performed to fulfill the goals of the checklist. The Pledge and Checklist can be found on the newly established Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion page on the Bar Association’s website at: ribar.com/for-attorneys/diversity-equity-and-inclusion/. The DEI page also includes a variety of resources available to promote DEI among our membership. The Bar also circulates a quarterly DEI Newsletter to Bar members. The purpose of the newsletter is to bring attention to steps the Bar is taking to be more inclusive and to share relevant information about diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.

At a recent conference of bar leaders, I had the opportunity to hear from other state and bar leaders about the initiatives taking place in their communities and bar associations to encourage DEI. I can tell you from what I heard at the conference, Rhode Island is very much in front of the issues that are under consideration.

We have a very active Judiciary that is leading the way on issues relating to DEI. The Committee on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts, chaired by RI Supreme Court Associate Justice Melissa Long, was established in 2021 and has produced a series of videos featuring Justice Long, RI Family Court Associate Justice Lia Stuhlsatz, RI Superior Court Associate Justice Luis Matos, and RI Workers’ Compensation Court Associate Judge Keith Cardoza. In each of the videos, they describe their personal experiences dealing with issues of race relations and inclusion, and how it has shaped their views on the Bench. The videos are available for viewing on the Rhode Island Judiciary’s website: courts.ri.gov/PublicResources/fairness/Pages/default.aspx

As part of our efforts to continue placing emphasis on DEI in the legal profession, our 2022 Annual Meeting Opening Plenary, Stand and Deliver, featured a panel of speakers moderated by RI Superior Court Associate Justice Linda Rekas Sloan which included Justice Long, Judge Stuhlsatz, Attorney Hamza Chaudary of Adler, Pollock and Sheehan (current co-chair of our DEI Committee) and Attorney Josh Xavier of Partridge, Snow & Hahn. The panel discussed the value of multi-culturalism and representation in all aspects of the legal system, including the legal workforce and Rhode Island Judiciary, and addressed how organizations can attract and retain employees from a broad range of backgrounds. Our closing Plenary featured award-winning trial attorneys Keith and Dana Cutler, who discussed the important topic of “Authentic Inclusiveness.” Our goal is to include an equal number of DEI-related programming at the 2023 Annual Meeting.

Our 2022 Aon-sponsored ethics seminar topic concerned civility in law firms but addressed issues of tolerance for persons who think or react differently in the work environment. The Bar Association DEI website offers a score of other DEI-related seminars that are available online in our on-demand catalogue.

Our mission to foster diversity and inclusiveness among our ranks is far from over. We have a long way to go to achieve many of the goals set forth in our Pledge. They are, however, goals worthy of our efforts, and as we continue to move closer to these objectives, our membership will reap the benefits through a more robust and more durable Bar Association.

The Bar Journal assumes no responsibility for opinions, statements, and facts in any article, editorial, column, or book review, except to the extent that, by publication, the subject matter merits attention. Neither the opinions expressed in any article, editorial, column, or book review nor their content represent the official view of the Rhode Island Bar Association or the views of its members.