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Recommendations aim to increase diversity on the Board of Governors

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Michael Tanner

Mike Tanner

Two years of extensive research and long meetings ended March 25 when the Board of Governors approved recommendations designed to help diversify the 52-member, elected panel.

With no debate and little discussion, the board voted to approve a Program Evaluation Committee proposal that includes asking the board Communications Committee to initiate a continuous education and outreach campaign.

“They have made recommendations that I think are productive and will [raise] the bar in terms of greater diversity on the Board of Governors,” said Program Evaluation Committee Chair Roland Sanchez-Medina.

President Mike Tanner agreed.

“This has been a subcommittee that has been working for two years,” he said. “These are recommendations that I think can move the needle.”

Former President Dori Foster-Morales formed the Program Evaluation Committee subcommittee in 2020, after the board rejected a previous special committee’s recommendation to amend a Standing Board Policy that governs the appointment of non-voting board liaisons.

Stephanie Marchman

Stephanie Marchman

Board member Stephanie Marchman’s subcommittee reviewed Standing Board Policies, the Bar’s historical demographics, Board of Governors, Young Lawyers Division, and Florida Bar committee chair diversity statistics, Board of Governor vacancies over the past decade, as well as Bar member surveys.

Another Program Evaluation Committee subcommittee, after months of research, concluded that there is not enough evidence to show that imposing term limits would make the Board of Governors more diverse. (See story here.)

When her subcommittee was formed, Marchman and other panel members identified several barriers to making the board more diverse in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, and practice area.

Many lawyers don’t run for the volunteer positions because they can’t afford the time away from work, or travel to meetings throughout the state — and one outside of state — that can cost as much as $8,000 annually, Marchman said.

The panel considered travel reimbursements based on a member’s income or ability to pay, or for all board members.

But the Program Evaluation Committee asked the subcommittee to reconsider, citing, among other things, concerns about the appropriate use of Bar member fees.

The final recommendations include, “Referring education and outreach opportunities to the board’s Communications Committee for continuous action.”

The education and outreach should include, but not be limited to, “Implementing best practices with respect to training interested persons, including diverse persons, about the Board of Governors and orienting new members of the Board of Governors, as well as conducting outreach to interested persons, including diverse persons, to run for the Board of Governors.”

The recommendations call for implementing member surveys to identify areas of education and outreach.

The subcommittee also recommended “conducting outreach with members of The Florida Bar residing in the circuit where regular Board of Governors meetings will occur, in coordination with The Florida Bar President and applicable Board of Governors circuit representatives, such as inviting local bar leaders to attend Board of Governors meetings (including committee meetings) and events, the Board of Governors collaborating with local voluntary bar associations on joint meetings and events in conjunction with Board of Governors meetings (on the Wednesday night before Board of Governors meeting, for example), and/or Board of Governors members participating in local bar meetings and events.”

Another recommendation urges Bar presidents and presidents-elect to “be more mindful of the expense and inclusiveness of Board of Governors meeting locations.”

The subcommittee noted that the Bar’s Standing Board Policy 1.20(a) provides, “When selecting meeting sites, the Bar president should consider the accessibility and the availability of alternative rooms at less expense than the meeting facility.”

Given that, the subcommittee recommended that the board Communications Committee, board members from the circuit that is being considered for a meeting, and any interested board member, “assist with carrying out Policy 1.20(a) and giving The Florida Bar President or President-elect input with respect to meeting locations.”

Bar presidents and presidents-elect should also consider continuing to hold at least one hybrid or virtual board meeting post-COVID, the subcommittee recommended, “however, it is acknowledged that in-person meetings throughout the State of Florida are critical to the proper functioning of the Board of Governors.”

Bar presidents and presidents-elect should also “be more mindful of occupation and practice area representation in the selection of Board of Governors non-voting liaison positions,” the subcommittee recommended.

“January 2022 survey results of the Board of Governors demonstrate that certain occupation and practice areas are under or over-represented on the Board of Governors in comparison to the number of Florida lawyers who report they work or practice in these areas statewide,” the subcommittee wrote.

The subcommittee noted that 30% of respondents to a 2021 Bar member survey were sole practitioners, but only 14% of board members identified the same way.

Where the member survey showed 15% of respondents were government lawyers, only 2% of the board identified as government lawyers.

Some 15% of Bar members listed their primary practice area as commercial litigation, compared with 53% of board members.

The subcommittee noted that Standing Board Policy 1.20(d) authorizes the Bar president to invite representatives of state, voluntary or local bar associations or groups to attend and participate in Board of Governors meetings.

Currently, board liaisons include representatives from the Virgil Hawkins Chapter, National Bar Association, the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, the Cuban American Bar Association, and a legal aid representative. In addition to lending their perspective and expertise to meetings, board liaisons often go on to run for board seats.

With that in mind, the subcommittee recommended “that The Florida Bar President consider occupation and practice area representation on the Board of Governors in extending such invitations (in addition to those invitations already extended,) so that peculiarities specific to those occupations or practice areas may be considered by the Board of Governors in its decision making.”

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