Second Annual Forum on Diversity Builds on Success to Engage the Bar

    by Chris Fortier

One successful event may be attributed as a flash in the pan.  However, two successful years means you are on to something. The Annual Forum sold out three weeks before the event. Over 120 people attended the event at William and Mary Law School.  They were eager, engaged, and made the Forum an event where everyone challenged one another to think in new ways. Months of planning and putting together arrangements made a difference in advancing the dialogue.

The widely anticipated event opened with remarks from Diversity Conference Chair Chidi James. He noted that the Diversity Conference serves as part of the cure to divisiveness in today’s society.  For example, the Forum was a chance for people to get to know others who are different. “Once you talk to someone you will start to realize you have more in common than you originally thought.” He urged attendees to continue the conversation.

Marni Byrum provided the Virginia State Bar President’s welcome.  She noted that her initiative is inclusion and engagement as she wants to engage more people in the mission of the VSB. “Inclusion of diversity makes us stronger profession a stronger society, and a stronger bar.”

The Forum Keynote from Justice Bernard Goodwyn opened the Forum with thoughtful remarks.  He emphasized the importance of the rule of law and noted that diversity and inclusion have a critical role in ensuring that the rule of law is available to all. 

“The Rule of Law is cornerstone of democracy. In order for it to happen, we need an independent and impartial judiciary.  Our job is to consider laws are applied equally to everyone. The Rule of Law is to determine what is just from legal perspective.”

He noted that diversity and inclusion strengthen the operation of rule of law in this country. He observed that judges bring training, talent, and life experiences to the bench. Individuals from different backgrounds, life experiences, and talents bring a lot to the table. A diverse bench and bar is essential to justice and preservation of confidence in courts and the legal system as citizens need to know they will have fairness and justice in the courtroom.

Justice Goodwin pointed to the late Justice Leroy Hassell, Sr as an example of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) as he improved the system and made unopposed items of D&I his priorities during his time on the bench. Justice Hassell grew up in Norfolk in the period of the segregated south.  When Justice Hassell became Chief Justice, he made inclusion a priority. “He understood that you get a better product when you get a better input, meaning more points of view at the table. Justice Hassell would state “I made it my business to lobby the General Assembly for more money for interpreters, for legal services for the poor, court personnel training to be helpful, VSB include CLE programming for smalls and solos around the state and indigent training.” Justice Goodwin reminded the audience that Justice Hassell wanted a legal research tool as benefit of the state bar membership.  

He made it happen when he had a seat at the table. Diversity and Inclusion, he stated, improves proper application of law and makes rule of law operate better as it provides all a stake in a better society.

Luis Perez (Forum Chair), Marni Byrum (President of the VSB), Justice Bernard Goodwin, and Chidi James (Chair, Diversity Conference) (Dee Norman – VSB). 


Chris Fortier serves on the Board of the Governors of the Diversity Conference, working on the Invictus newsletter and the Diversity Conference website and social media. In his day job, he works at the Social Security Administration (SSA). The views in this article are his and his alone and do not reflect those of SSA or the Federal Government.

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