Message from your President
May 2015 President's Corner
One of the strategic areas identified in the State Bar of South Dakota’s Strategic Plan is to create “an inclusive, welcoming atmosphere fostering collegiality, camaraderie, civility and professionalism.” When this topic is discussed, one has to wonder if we have somehow let these core values of our organization slip in the fast-paced competitive world in which we practice.
For years, inclusivity has been discussed, but has it been the practice? Do we do enough to insure that our profession reflects our society? Are we simply giving lip service to the need to be inclusive? It has been said that diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance. Is it time to dance more and not just invite?
Two sectors of our profession are often identified in the discussions on our need to be more inclusive. Women and minorities have often been made to feel invited but not asked to dance. One example is to simply look at our Circuit Court Judges. Currently, there are 11 women serving in the 41 Judge positions. Only 4 of the 14 part time magistrates are women. Yet, women make up approximately one third of our members and average approximately 45% of law school admitees over the last several years. For the first time in South Dakota history, two female Justices sit on our Supreme Court. This is a good step but we need to encourage qualified women to apply for judicial openings throughout the state. There will be more opportunities as our aging judiciary approaches retirement over the next decade and the percentage of women lawyers will continue to increase. The system is best served when the judiciary reflects the society and profession it serves.
The minority situation is even more dramatic. In a state with nearly 10% of the population comprised of Native Americans, the struggle to get more Native Americans active in the profession continues. Only 7 of 206 incoming 1L’s over the last 3 years at USD have been Native Americans. The diversity and cultural understanding that can only come from those raised in Indian Country are vitally important if the legal system is to function properly. There is an opportunity here that needs to be explored.
It is exciting to report that the Native American Law Student Association Chapter at the USD School of Law was recently named the Chapter of the Year at the 40th annual Indian Law Conference. In addition, second year law student Tsyoslake House was named 2L of the year at the same conference. This national recognition of the good things happening at USD is an encouraging sign that we are ever so slowly making headway. Over the next few years, you will hear more on this topic as President Elect Schulte and Stephanie Pochop have identified this as an area the Bar may be able to provide guidance in making entry into the legal profession more attainable for the many Native Americans who are qualified and capable of making a difference.
Our Young Lawyer’s Section has developed a program designed to welcome new members into the profession. The Young Lawyers intend to match a law student attending our annual meeting with a practicing lawyer and encourage the lawyer to allow the law student participate in the annual meeting programs and activities with them. This will be a great way to showcase the collegiality that we share in South Dakota. It is also a reminder to all of us that our professionalism and conduct toward one another and the Courts should, at all times, remain above reproach. At our recent strategic planning retreat, Judge Karen Schreier shared with us some of her thoughts on this issue and reminded us that the conduct occasionally exhibited by out of state attorneys cannot be tolerated if we want to maintain the friendly welcoming environment we have prided ourselves upon for many decades. We should be proud of how we conduct ourselves, but as the world, and our practices, become more impersonal and more reliant on electronic communication, it is easy to lose perspective. Don’t hide behind an email as an excuse to send something to another lawyer that you would never say in person. Advocacy and collegiality can work hand in hand.
The inclusivity we seek is not just a feel good topic. It is truly nothing more than a furtherance of our commitment to insure that the legal system in South Dakota continue to provide quality access to justice for all citizens. Although progress has been made, there is much more to do. As an association and as a profession, LET’S DANCE.