When Jesse Ruiz was sworn in as Chicago Bar Association (CBA) president in June 2019, he said his primary focus was investing in the future. To combat declining membership in professional associations nationally, Ruiz said that through career advancement and educational opportunities, the CBA must be “indispensable to our members by preparing them for the future.”
Ruiz, the son of an undocumented immigrant, also wants to make the CBA “a kind of focal point for other diverse groups.” During his tenure, he will focus on collaboration with diverse bar associations and prioritize advancing diversity on the bench.
We caught up with Jesse Ruiz to dig deeper into his priorities as CBA president and to discuss what we can expect from the organization.
One of your top priorities as CBA president is investing in its future. What value do bar associations provide in this changing legal landscape?
Bar associations have long been an important and essential resource for lawyers, the courts and the public by providing a wide array of personal, professional and public service programming that helps lawyers stay on top of developments in the law while enhancing their professional skills in virtually every practice area.
Through bar associations, lawyers use their knowledge and skills to draft and comment on important legislation that impacts the public and the legal profession. In addition, bar associations offer lawyers special programs that provide work-life strategies and techniques to help improve work-life balance. Bar associations also offer countless opportunities for all lawyers, young and old, to engage in public service programming that benefits the communities that we serve. All of that remains true today, but without question, the legal landscape is changing and bar associations must adapt to those changes.
In 2018, under the leadership of past President Judge Thomas Mulroy, the CBA conducted an in-depth study examining the future of the legal profession and the practice of law in Chicago. The project resulted in a significant report, a portion of which identifies important work that bar associations must set upon to continue to bring value to members. This includes a special focus on working to meet the evolving needs of young lawyers by creating and fostering programming and initiatives that consider the new challenges confronting younger lawyers such as the impact of electronic learning, social media platforms and the preferred social interactions of law students and young attorneys.
At the CBA, we believe very firmly that bar associations play a critical role in the future of Illinois’ legal profession.
How is the CBA evolving to meet the needs of its members?
The CBA has recognized and been at the forefront in working to meet the changing needs of our members, thanks in great part to the dedication and leadership of our officers and board of managers as well as the CBA leadership team.
That being said, we recognize the ever-changing landscape and work hard to stay ahead of the curve. For example, the CBA just unveiled a new and improved webcast platform that will greatly enhance webinar capabilities, including mobile-friendly access.
And we have a cutting-edge Law Practice & Management Technology Center that offers members new services and programs, including continuing legal education seminars, technology training both online and in person, and consulting services to CBA members in areas such as website review, technology review and strategic technology planning.
This year we also have a new Modern Law Practice Committee, which will focus on the changing nature of the legal profession and the ways that attorneys react and adapt to those changes. We will also be offering a Balanced Lawyer Series that will feature workshops geared toward members’ physical and mental health.
We recognize that young lawyers are the future of our profession and the CBA Young Lawyers Section is among the best in the nation having been awarded the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division top awards in all categories for several years in a row. The Young Lawyers Section has also launched a highly popular podcast called @the Bar, which offers monthly programs featuring interesting and unscripted interviews and discussions about legal news and a wide variety of other topics. The podcast is featured on the Legal Talk Network and can also be found on iTunes, Apple Podcasts and Google Play. We also have an @theBar Blog which features judicial interviews, practice tips, work/life balance insights and more.
You’re also focused on increasing diversity in the Illinois judicial community. What’s the biggest barrier to diversity on the bench?
Given the significant role of the judiciary in our system of justice, diversity is extremely important. When judges reflect the populations that they are serving, it increases public confidence in the judicial and court systems.
In order to overcome barriers to diversity, we need to work to promote the practice of law and make it an inviting and welcoming career choice for diverse law students across the state of Illinois. We also need to ensure that we have adequate career track opportunities for diverse lawyers throughout the state that can lead them to a career on the bench.
How can the profession overcome this barrier?
I believe we can do a better job of encouraging and mentoring diverse attorneys at law firms, particularly smaller firms outside of Chicago, as well as those in other areas of private practice and government service to help promote a career track that can lead these lawyers to the bench. In addition, we need to engage our elected and appointed officials to support diversity on the bench.
Bar associations can also play a role in this effort, as the CBA has consistently done, by promoting civics and legal programming that brings lawyers directly into the classrooms of diverse schools to help inform students about the justice system and encourage them to consider a career as a lawyer or judge.
What else can we expect from the CBA this year?
It is truly a great honor for me to be serving as the 146th president of the CBA, which is one of the oldest and most active metropolitan bar associations in the country. In my role as CBA president, I intend to focus on initiatives that strengthen our association.
I will also focus on promoting CBA community involvement in order to share the exceptional legal skills of our members to help citizens struggling to gain access to justice. As we all know, gun violence is a crisis in our great city as it is in so many others across the nation and I intend to put a special focus on formulating ways in which the legal community can come together to help address this devastating problem.
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