Minneapolis (6-04-02): -- The Hennepin County Bar Association’s Diversity Committee has recognized the State Board of Public Defense with the 2002 Diversity Award. This 750-member state agency with offices throughout Minnesota exists to provide quality criminal and juvenile legal defense services to indigent clients.
Over the last ten years, the Board of Public Defense has increased from 2 to twelve percent staff of color while the percentage of women lawyers has increased from 24 to 38%. These increases have taken place while the overall number of staff has tripled, making the agency perhaps the largest employer of lawyers of color in the Minnesota. The agency is recognized for its outstanding commitment to diversity in policies and activities, and for creating a diverse work environment.
The Board of Public Defense displays an active commitment to maintaining and fostering a diverse legal community and in its efforts to bridge communities of color and the legal community. Staff consult with leadership of bar associations of color and participate in local and national minority and public interest job fairs. They encourage advocacy to oppose racial profiling. Within the agency there is an active mentoring effort. The Community Clerkship program and sponsorship of public interest and diversity-focused CLEs are just two of the ways in which significant strides have been taken.
Established seven years ago, the Clerkship program hires mainly law students of color to clerk in all ten districts and the appellate office for ten weeks in the summer. The intent of the program is to interest students in public defense work and to challenge them to consider the opportunities within the public defender’s office when they graduate. There were 141 applications for the summer 2002 Clerkship program, up from the 110 applications received the previous year. Recruiting has proven effective through focused efforts reaching all four metro law schools and participation in minority job fairs.
The Board has sponsored CLE programs regarding improved representation to clients from specific communities, such as Southeast Asian clients. Such activities bring together lawyers, support staff, and people from the community in ways that help bridge the gap between the legal community and the public.
The Diversity Committee enthusiastically honors the State Board of Public Defense with the 2002 HCBA Diversity Award.
The mission of the Hennepin County Bar Association is to serve the needs of a diverse membership by advancing collegiality, professionalism, ethical conduct and competence in the legal profession. The association shall strive to ensure the fairness and accessibility of the legal system by promoting public understanding and confidence in our system of justice and by working along with the courts to improve the administration of justice. The largest of Minnesota's 21 county bar associations and representing almost half of Minnesota's attorneys, serves a membership of 8000 legal professionals.