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Committee on Diversity and Inclusion aims to help Bar sections diversify

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Michael Gelfand Bar sections intent on enhancing diversity may want to take a cue from the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section’s Fellowship Program.

At the Bar’s Winter Meeting in Orlando, the RPPTL’s Michael Gelfand discussed with the Bar’s Standing Committee on Diversity and Inclusion the section’s efforts to attract and cultivate young, diverse leadership.

“Our goal is to provide opportunities to deserving attorneys to achieve their career goals through leadership training and working closely with leading attorneys in their field, while at the same time fostering diversity within the section,” Gelfand said. “The Fellowship Program has been a very successful program and many of our fellows have moved into leadership positions within the section.”

Charlie Ann SyprettChair Charlie Ann Syprett noted that the Diversity and Inclusion Committee is one of the Bar’s largest because it has liaisons from every section “to make sure that those sections have initiatives, or built in processes, that would elevate or promote minority lawyers up their leadership food chains.”

“We want to work together toward our goal, which is getting all lawyers involved and empowered within the Bar,” Syprett said.

Gelfand said the mission of the RPPTL Fellowship Program is to attract and retain young, diverse lawyers to the section by providing subsidized fellowships to qualified individuals interested in becoming active in the substantive work of the section. It allows individuals to become involved in the section’s work, receive leadership training, and work closely with leading attorneys in their field.

The Fellowship Program is open to all lawyers who are members of the RPPTL Section and have been admitted to the Bar for fewer than 12 years or are younger than 38 years old. Fellowships are provided for a two-year term. Each fellow receives a stipend of up to $2,500 annually (not to exceed actual out-of-pocket expenses) to help defray the expense of attending in-state RPPTL Section meetings. Additionally, each fellow is assigned a social mentor, who is a member of the executive council, to assist the fellow in maximizing his or her experience and attending RPPTL social and networking events. Each fellow is also assigned a committee mentor to assist the fellow’s active involvement in the committee that most closely fits the fellow’s practice area, with the goal of maximizing his or her professional development. Every fellow is also paired with a second-year fellow to help guide the new fellow during the first year.

In return for the section commitments, fellows are required to attend a minimum of three executive council meetings per year, serve as an active member of Membership and Inclusion Committee, and be an active member of at least one substantive committee. As an active committee member, the fellow is required to complete one substantive work project on behalf of the committee on an annual basis. This project may include writing an article in his or her area of expertise for the section’s publication, ActionLine, chairing a subcommittee, or drafting proposed legislation on behalf of the committee. To assure these requirements are fulfilled, each fellow must submit a work plan to the Fellowship Committee by October of each year, which outlines the substantive work project they have chosen, and a report at the end of each year. Fellows are also expected to participate in fellow meetings and gatherings at the section meetings.

Gelfand said while the section is committed to attracting lawyers of diverse backgrounds to the section, he admits, “We have a long way to go.”

Syprett said the RPPTL’s efforts represent the “gold standard” of inclusion programs for Florida Bar sections and encouraged other sections to replicate their efforts.

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