The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives: What Is the Bar Doing Now?

Featured Article

The 2016-2019 Strategic Plan of The Florida Bar[1] outlines its objectives in its continuing effort to encourage and promote diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the profession and justice system.

The Bar objectives include:

• Creating a diverse judiciary, as well as diverse judicial nominating commissions, that reflects the population of Florida;

• Continuing the Bar’s “Get Involved” campaign;

• Encouraging members to provide self-identifying information to The Florida Bar to develop baseline data;

• Requesting that the Board of Governors become more active in their outreach to members and the public by increasing the number of speeches they give and by participating in an ambassador outreach program;

• Tasking recent graduates of the Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Leadership Academy to develop ideas for outreach; and

• Continuing to enhance The Florida Bar’s diversity grant program.[2]

The Florida Bar and its Board of Governors are fully committed to enhancing diversity within the Bar, legal profession, legal education, and justice system by developing committees, implementing programs, and providing financial support. But despite the Bar’s continued affirmation of its commitment to a diverse and inclusive environment with equal access and opportunity for minority lawyers, women lawyers, lawyers with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) lawyers, there is a gap between the Bar’s aspirations and achievements. In examining what the Bar is doing now to close that gap, we begin with the nexus and evolution of current diversity and inclusion initiatives.


In 2004, volunteers and presenters from The Florida Bar, voluntary bar associations, the judiciary, and universities and law schools from all over the state gathered for two days at the St. Thomas University School of Law for the Diversity in the Legal Profession Symposium.[3] The brainchild of former Florida Bar President Miles McGrane III, the attendees were charged with developing concrete proposals and recommendations to be used by The Florida Bar, law schools, the profession, and those responsible for selecting the judiciary, to achieve the goal that the legal profession in Florida, in all its parts, accurately reflect the makeup of society.[4] The fruit of this labor was the presentation of the 2004 Diversity in the Legal Profession Final Report and Recommendations to the Board of Governors.[5] These recommendations still serve as a blueprint for The Florida Bar and others affiliated with the legal profession in Florida to follow in developing a plan to increase participation, retention, and representation of diverse attorneys.

In 2010, following recommendations from the Program Evaluation Committee, the Bar reexamined and overhauled its diversity efforts, including creating a new Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (CDI).[6] The CDI is charged with oversight of the Bar’s voluntary bar grant program, which supports diversity programing implemented by local and specialty bar associations, and the development, continuation, and communication of the Bar’s diversity efforts.[7] Through its uniquely inclusive committee of 138 members, including a representative from each Bar section, the CDI develops and implements projects, programs, and partnerships to further its mission of increasing diversity and inclusion in the Bar. In addition to the CDI, the Bar addressed the ever-changing spectrum of diversity by expanding outreach and development through the special committees on parental leave and gender bias.[8]

In 2011, the Bar stepped up its diversity efforts by hiring Arnell Bryant-Willis as diversity initiatives manager. Bryant-Willis’ appointment provided a continuity of effort while creating an epicenter for diversity and inclusion information, resources, benchmarking, evaluation, and reporting. Since joining the Bar, Bryant-Willis and Brittney Clemons, The Florida Bar’s diversity initiatives program coordinator, have centralized, organized, coordinated, and reported the Bar’s diversity efforts and initiatives. Working closely with the CDI, section leaders, and voluntary bar associations, Florida Bar staff provide the full-time commitment necessary for the advancement of the Bar’s diversity goals. Working with limited resources on such a broad and expansive endeavor presents unique challenges. But Bryant-Willis continues to manage the Bar’s efforts to achieve a more diverse and inclusive legal organization and environment with equal access and opportunity for all, while addressing some of the challenges for women, people of color, and people with disabilities.

In 2013, Eugene Pettis, the first African-American president of The Florida Bar, took the helm with a renewed commitment to creating a more diverse population of attorneys engaged in Bar leadership, sections, and committees.[9] Pettis challenged the Bar to do more than just talk diversity, but to also provide the tools, opportunities, and support necessary to achieve the goal of a more diverse and inclusive Bar.[10] Pettis’ vision for a more inclusive environment for all attorneys gave rise to several ambitious yet substantive diversity initiatives that are included in the Bar’s 2016-2019 strategic plan. Two particularly successful diversity initiatives currently implemented by the Bar are the Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Leadership Academy and the “Get Involved” campaign. Since their inception, these noteworthy programs continue to be widely supported by Bar leadership and membership.[11]

The Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Leadership Academy

The Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Leadership Academy is a multi-session training program designed to enhance the diversity of leaders within The Florida Bar.[12] The academy’s mission is to identify, nurture, and inspire effective leadership within the Bar and the legal community.[13] During their one-year term, academy fellows follow a curriculum tailored to enhance their professional development, knowledge base, and experience, including attending Florida Bar events and special educational programs. Academy fellows are given the opportunity to learn more about the inner workings of the Bar and their role in the legal profession, while enhancing their personal leadership skills.

Participation in the academy as a fellow requires a commitment of time and resources. Attendance at meetings is mandatory and fellows may be dropped from the program for nonattendance. The academy meets approximately every other month for a total of six meetings, plus graduation. Meetings are held during The Florida Bar’s Annual Convention in June, The Florida Bar fall meeting in October, and the January meeting of the Board of Governors in Tallahassee. The three other meetings are held at various locations around the state. At the conclusion of the program, fellows participate in graduation at The Florida Bar Annual Convention. There is a tuition fee of $500, and fellows are responsible for their travel expenses and accommodations while at meetings. Realizing that the financial cost may be a deterrent, the academy offers a limited number of full and partial scholarships for those with financial need.

As a part of the curriculum, Leadership Academy fellows are tasked with completing a project that relates to the legal profession or community that allows the fellows to build skills and assist in helping improve the legal profession for Florida attorneys and citizens. Projects are available to the public upon completion at the end of each program year. Two notable projects currently available to Florida attorneys and citizens through the Bar are the Mental Health Toolkit and the Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit.[14]

After graduation, fellows agree to become involved with Florida Bar committee, section, or division service, local or voluntary bar service, other community leadership activity, or act as a mentor to a member of the incoming class.

Get Involved

The “Get Involved” campaign encourages all Florida lawyers to get involved in one or more of The Florida Bar’s sections, divisions, or committees, or other service opportunities. But a special emphasis is placed on increasing participation of members with diversity of gender, ethnicity, geography, practice area, and firm size. Since its inception, every Florida Bar president has solicited members of diverse groups to apply for appointment to one of the Bar’s standing, special, or substantive law committees. There are also opportunities for appointment to one of 79 local grievance committees and 31 local unlicensed practice of law circuit committees. The Bar also champions diversity in membership in its sections and divisions.

In November 2017, the Get Involved Committee of CDI hosted its first-ever, statewide symposium called “Path to Inclusion.” This inaugural symposium was a day-long, multi-track program on gender bias, multiculturalism, and implicit/explicit bias, focusing on developing competencies aimed at creating a more inclusive legal profession and law practices in corporate law departments, law firms, and the public sector.

Voluntary Bar Association Diversity Leadership Grant Program

Opportunities for involvement through local, voluntary, and specialty bar associations are supported through the Bar’s Voluntary Bar Association Diversity Leadership Grant Program.[15] In 2010, the Board of Governors agreed to create and fund a grant program to support diversity programs through local, voluntary, and specialty bar associations. The purpose of the voluntary bar association grant program is to support initiatives and programs that encourage diversity, diversity training, and dialogue among lawyers in Florida through financial support of conferences, seminars, and summits and symposia planned and hosted by local and specialty bar associations. A total of $50,000 is available for award to voluntary bar associations with individual grants up to $1,500 to single bar associations and up to $3,000 to multiple voluntary bars working together on a project to underwrite diversity programing and conferences. The goal of the grant program is to fund projects that foster an inclusive environment in which lawyers, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability, are motivated to succeed professionally and contribute to the goals of their profession. The programs also further and increase knowledge and awareness of diversity and cultural competency. Through increased participation, retention, and representation of minority and women lawyers in local and specialty voluntary bars, the Bar strives to improve diversity in legal education, employment, the judiciary, and The Florida Bar.

CDI is responsible for awards through the diversity grant program. Through the diversity leadership grant program and the “Get Involved” campaign, the Bar has funded projects, such as the Florida Muslim Bar Association and Palm Beach County Bar Association’s Judicial Lunch and Learn Diversity Program, designed to expose members of the judiciary to the challenges facing Muslims in the profession as well as the Muslim community as participants in the legal system. Similar presentations were given for judges in Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, and Orange counties. The Bar also awarded grant funds to the Tallahassee Bar Association, Tallahassee Barristers Association, and Tallahassee Women Lawyers for Thunderdome Tallahassee. Thunderdome Tallahassee is a new and innovative program developed by the Legal Aid Foundation of the Tallahassee Bar Association, Inc., that provides assistance to low-income families in Leon County with family law cases. By implementing a diversity training curriculum, Thunderdome Tallahassee provides equal access to the law to clients who may have socioeconomic, racial, and gender differences or physical and mental disabilities. The program also supports diverse volunteer lawyers with continuing legal education and leadership development. Thunderdome Tallahassee and its diversity curriculum is designed to be easily replicated throughout Florida by other bar associations and public interest law groups.

In addressing the education pipeline, grant funds also support several diversity-focused pipeline programs, including local bar association minority mentoring picnics throughout Florida. These smaller versions of the Kozyak Minority Mentoring Picnic[16] bring law students from diverse backgrounds and lawyers and judges together in an informal and fun environment for a day of networking and mentoring.

Section Diversity Initiatives

In order to move toward a more diverse and inclusive Bar, it is necessary to have the unequivocal support and participation of section and committee leadership, as well as the individual commitment of active section members. Many Bar sections list diversity in membership as a goal, but more must be done to make inclusiveness a priority. Sections and committees must commit to measures aimed at ensuring diversity in its leadership, membership, and programming. Sections must do more to recruit a diverse group of lawyers and to foster a spirit of inclusiveness in all section committees and activities. To foster an atmosphere of inclusion requires sections and committees to actively recruit lawyers across the spectrum of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability status to join, participate, and ultimately serve in section leadership positions. Sections must provide opportunities and training to diverse lawyers to take on leadership roles at both the committee and section levels.

Moving Forward

The Florida Bar is poised to move the diversity needle forward and to take action under Florida Bar President Michelle Suskauer’s leadership. Before being sworn in as 70th president of The Florida Bar, Suskauer traveled around the state encouraging women and minority lawyers to apply for the many leadership and committee opportunities within The Florida Bar. Since being elected, she continues to promote change and inclusiveness of women and minorities.[17] This is reflected in the diversity of the appointments made to the many committees under her leadership. Simply put, serving on these committees empowers and motivates women and people of color to lead more in this profession. It also allows women and minorities to sit at the table and contribute to the conversations regarding important decisions and issues that affect lawyers and the community at-large. These appointments demonstrate that women and people of color are qualified, knowledgeable, and possess the requisite skills to lead and serve. Surely President Suskauer is well on the way to achieving one of her goals…leaving the Bar in a better place than when she found it.[18]

[1] The Florida Bar, The 2016-19 Strategic Plan for The Florida Bar, available at

[2] Id. at 6.

[3] Bar’s Diversity Symposium Set for St. Thomas in April, Fla. B. News, Apr. 1. 2004; Miles McGrane, Diversity in the Legal Profession, 78 Fla. B. J. 6 (March 2004), available at

[4] The Florida Bar, Diversity in the Legal Profession, Florida Bar Symposium 2004, Final Report and Recommendations (Aug. 2004), available at

[5] Id.

[6] The Florida Bar, Diversity & Inclusion Committee,

[7] Id.

[8] The Florida Bar, Special Committee on Child & Parent Representation, 2017-2018 Final Report and Recommendation, available at; The Florida Bar, Report of The Florida Bar Special Committee on Gender Bias (May 26, 2017), available at

[9] Jan Pudlow, Eugene K. Pettis — First African-American President of The Florida Bar, 87 Fla. B. J. 8, 18 (July/Aug 2013), available at

[10] Id.

[11] Mark D. Killian, “Get Involved,” 39 Fla. B. News, Nov. 15, 2013, available at; Jan Pudlow, Leadership Academy Turns Out All-Star Lawyers, 44 Fla. B. News, Sept. 15, 2017, available at

[12] The Florida Bar, Leadership Academy,

[13] The Florida Bar, Mission and Goals of the Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Leadership Academy,

[14] The Florida Bar, Mental Health Toolkit,; The Florida Bar, Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit,

[15] The Florida Bar, Leadership Grants for Voluntary Bar Associations,

[16] Kozyak Minority Mentoring Foundation, The Annual Minority Mentoring Picnic,

[17] Jim Ash, Suskauer To Be a Champion for Florida Lawyers, 45 Fla. B. News, June 15, 2018, available at

[18] More information on The Florida Bar’s efforts to increase diversity and inclusion, as well as task forces to study special topics of interest to the Bar can be found on the Bar’s page on Diversity & Inclusion: The Florida Bar’s standing committee on Diversity & Inclusion is open to all Florida Bar members. More information can be found at

Julie Harris Nelson is a partner in the Miami office of Roig Lawyers. She is an experienced insurance defense trial attorney who has tried more than 50 criminal and civil jury and bench trials involving automobile liability personal injury protection litigation and insurance law. She began her legal career as an assistant state attorney in Miami-Dade County and later began practicing insurance defense. She currently serves on The Florida Bar Civil Procedure Rules Committee and Voluntary Bar Liaison Committee.

Anika Royster Hardmon serves as career law clerk for Donald L. Graham, senior judge, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Prior to joining Judge Graham, she worked with the law firm of Gary, Williams, Parentie, Watson & Gary, P.L.L.C. Hardmon is a graduate of Florida A&M University and North Carolina Central School of Law.