The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

2010 Offers Grant Program to Voluntary Bar Associations that Encourage Diversity


When he became president of the Jacksonville Bar Association, Joseph Camerlengo felt there was a lack of diversity initiatives in his circuit and was concerned that his association did not have an active diversity committee. He set a goal of bringing together the volunteer bars in Jacksonville to address diversity and to launch an ongoing effort.

Toward that goal, the Jacksonville Bar Association Diversity Symposium was organized and held in February 2009. Co-hosting organizations included the Asian-American Bar Association, the Christian Legal Society, the D.W. Perkins Bar Association, Florida Coastal School of Law, the Hispanic Bar Association, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, and Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association. The focuses of the half-day symposium, which had a keynote speaker and panel discussions, included equality in the legal profession and an open and frank dialogue about diversity. Approximately 100 members of the legal community attended, and law students were provided with complimentary admission.

Like the Jacksonville Bar, the Palm Beach County Bar Association championed a diversity outreach program with its Diversity Summit in September 2009. With support from F. Malcolm Cunningham Sr. Bar Association, the Hispanic Bar Association, the South Palm Beach County Bar Association, the Palm Beach County Justice Association, and the Florida Association for Women Lawyers (statewide and local chapters), this event was an open forum for government agencies and the business community to join members of the bench and law firm representatives in discussions on new programs to increase the diversity of Palm Beach County’s local legal community. The central focus was on developing new diversity initiatives and opportunities for firms and agencies to attract and retain diverse legal talent. Attendance topped 200.

Another example of a local diversity initiative was the Hillsborough County Bar Association’s Regional Diversity Summit, providing live interactive training for judges, lawyers, and law students. Held in April 2010, speakers included Wilhelmina L. Tribble, a certified international facilitator, and Judge Claudia R. Isom, a Florida Bar certified diversity trainer and member of the 13th Judicial Circuit Diversity Team. The four-hour summit — which was also presented as a webinar — concentrated on cultural competency, a new skill requirement in the legal profession structured on employing a combination of awareness, knowledge, and cross-cultural skill building. The summit targeted law firm, court, and business representatives and law students who have or wish to have a role in their organization’s recruiting and hiring process and/or a deeper understanding and awareness of cultural diversity.

The Florida Bar began addressing diversity and inclusion issues more than a decade ago and has sponsored an annual diversity symposium each year since 2004, with the 2008 and 2009 symposia held at the annual convention to widen participation. The first statewide call to explore ways to promote the value of a diverse legal profession — with special emphasis on increasing diversity at large law firms and corporate counsel offices — was at an all-bar conference in 2001, sponsored by The Florida Bar and organized by the leaders of the Equal Opportunities Law Section, Florida Association for Women Lawyers, and the Virgil Hawkins Chapter of the National Bar Association.

In 2010, recognizing that diversity awareness must not only come from a statewide bar but should be recognized, embraced, encouraged, and celebrated at the local level, The Florida Bar Board of Governors created the Voluntary Bar Association Diversity Leadership Grant program. The grants will support initiatives and programs by voluntary bars that encourage diversity, diversity training, and dialogue among lawyers through financial support of conferences, seminars, summits, and symposia. A total of $50,000 is available, with individual grants up to $1,500 and up to $3,000 for multiple voluntary bars working together on a project. Funding priority will be given to coalitions of local bar associations within circuits, districts, or geographic regions of the state. Bar associations are limited to one application/project per year. Grants will be approved by the new Special Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.

Grants can underwrite multi-hour, half-day, full-day, or multi-day diversity programs. Although the primary grant applicant must be a voluntary bar association headquartered and operating in Florida, Florida Bar sections and divisions may partner with voluntary bar associations in developing and presenting programs that may be eligible for the grants.

For more information on the programs in Jacksonville, Palm Beach, and Hillsborough and for the grant criteria and application, visit

Maria S. Johnson is on the staff of the Bar’s Public Information and Bar Services Department.