Hispanic National Bar Association Releases Second Landmark Report by the Standing Commission on the Status of Latinas in the Legal Profession

Sep 10, 2010, 19:42 ET from Hispanic National Bar Association

MINNEAPOLIS, Sept. 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Yesterday, the Hispanic National Bar Association's (HNBA) Standing Commission on the Status of Latinas in the Legal Profession ("Commission"), announced the release of its second ground breaking study, La Voz de la Abogada Latina: Challenges and Rewards in Serving the Public Interest at the HNBA 35th Annual Convention.  The study explores and analyzes the experiences and perceptions of Latina attorneys employed in public interest offices such as Legal Aid, legal services, public defenders' offices, prosecutors' offices, civil rights agencies and organizations, and other nonprofits providing legal services.  

This year's study is an extension to the Commission's 2009 seminal study, Few and Far Between: The Reality of Latina Lawyers and focuses on Latinas practicing in the public interest because, "[t]hese attorneys represent individuals and communities with limited or no access to legal services.  They have shaped United States legal jurisprudence in a variety of areas, including civil rights, immigrants' rights, the rights of the accused and consumer rights, and have successfully protected and sought to expand constitutional rights and guarantees.  They have elevated the level of discourse on issues of fundamental importance to our democratic society and have often taken positions on behalf of insular communities seeking relief from positions benefiting the majority at the expense of the less powerful."  As Dolores Atencio, Co-Chair of the Commission since 2008, succinctly added, "[t]hey are our lawyers on the front lines of American democracy." 

The study, authored by Professor Jenny Rivera (CUNY Law School), Ph.D. Candidate Jill L. Cruz (JLC Consulting, LLC) and Professor Melinda S. Molina (Capital University Law School), "achieves the Commission's first goal of documenting and calling attention to the unique experiences of Latina lawyers," Ms. Atencio explains, "by providing detailed demographic and professional background information on Latina public interest attorneys nationwide."  The findings of the LAPIS Study clearly demonstrate that Latina public interest attorneys are deeply committed to helping others and furthering access to justice for their clients and the Latino community and thus, have high rates of career satisfaction.  They enjoy a positive quality of life attributed to, in part, their ability to better accommodate their family and work commitments. 

Notwithstanding their high levels of career satisfaction and enhanced quality of life, Cruz, who co-authored the Commission's 2009 study, emphasized the consistent finding that "the study participants encounter similar obstacles related to the intersection of their gender, ethnicity and race; however, they also face additional challenges related to their career choice, including disparately lower wages and limited career opportunities in the public interest sector that contributes to their continued under representation in leadership roles within these workplaces." 

Like their 2009 study counterparts, participants in this year's study are subjected to stereotype-based doubts about their professional capabilities and competence.  HNBA National President, Roman D. Hernandez stated, "[u]nfortunately, the experience of Latinas in the public interest sector are very similar to those of Latina lawyers practicing in the private sector. However, there are systemic obstacles - and even more limited opportunities - to their advancement due to their gender, ethnicity and race.  This finding is surprising in the realm of organizations whose mission and work seek equality and legal representation of disenfranchised people." 

"The study reveals that many study participants believe that the legal profession and the general population devalue public interest sector jobs and their work, and that they have limited opportunities for advancement as the numbers of management positions are finite and smaller than in the private sector," noted lead author Professor Rivera.  Rivera explained, "Latina attorneys do not consistently receive adequate recognition or compensation for the Spanish language skills and cultural competence that employers rely upon as extremely valuable skills and qualities they bring to the job."  Professor Molina who also authored the 2009 report added, "the obstacles these Latinas face are twofold- first, as women of color marginalized in the legal profession, intertwined with a legal sector (Hispanic attorneys) that is generally marginalized by the legal profession."  The study's finding that a majority of study participants graduated from top U.S. law schools and participated in competitive scholarly activities helps dispel these stereotypes. 

In recognition of the unique experiences and professional circumstances of Latina attorneys working in the public interest sector, the study recommends the following:

  • Dispel negative myths about public interest work and career choice.
  • Hire sufficient translators and interpreters to address the need for such services in the public interest sector and sufficiently compensate and acknowledge Latina public interest attorneys who are meeting those needs.
  • Increase professional development and leadership opportunities.  Support better pay commensurate with the skills and demands of public interest work.
  • Research and analyze the impact of education debt on Latina public interest attorneys' professional choices and retention rates.
  • Support mentorship programs and opportunities that address the specific challenges of Latinas currently working, or interested in, the public interest sector.

The study was released at the Commission's annual luncheon, during which it honored Norma Ramos, Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.  The Honorable Sandra Day O'Connor, Retired Justice, U.S. Supreme Court, was the keynote speaker.  Also honored were Judge Catherine Torres-Stahl as HNBA Latina Judge of the Year Award Recipient and Maria Luisa "Lulu" Flores, recipient of the HNBA's Latina Attorney of the Year Award. 

SOURCE Hispanic National Bar Association