Oregon State Bar Bulletin — MAY 2011
Parting Thoughts
The Garden of Diversity
By the Hon. Janice R. Wilson

For a person who likes a sense of control, gardening can be frustrating. Things don’t always turn out exactly as you’d envisioned. Like most lawyers, I like to plan things, execute the plans to the best of my ability and have a pretty good idea how things will look in the end. When I garden, I plan my beds on paper with gridlines. I even plant the seeds using a yardstick to get the spacing just right. But nature will have her way with what I’ve done. There is no set-and-forget in most gardens. I later have to thin and prune. When a cold spring brings down the germination rate, or when a plant that should have been perfect for a spot inexplicably fails, I reseed, transplant or sometimes just acknowledge that something won’t grow here — at least not for me.

In the fall of 2001, I attended a garden planting of sorts, organized by a group of lawyers concerned about diversity in the Oregon bar. The event was the Convocation on Equality. Many people had been preparing the soil for years (yes, I am going to continue with the gardening metaphor; bear with me!), tilling with task forces on bias and mulching with affirmative action and mentorship programs. At the convocation, seeds were planted, nutrients were applied and there was a good watering-in with exhortations from the chief justice and the ABA president. The OSB Diversity Section was formed and we all made resolutions for how we would carry forth this important work.

The planners of the first Convocation on Equality knew that monoculture in the bar, as in the field, is not a very sound practice in the long run. Oregon needs a bar that is diverse in its makeup. Attorneys should have the chance to flourish here regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. The people in our state are better served by a bar (and bench) that reflects their own diversity. A diverse bar is also healthier and hardier because its members don’t all share the same susceptibilities. And the cross-pollination that occurs among people from a variety of backgrounds results in richer, more creative thinking.

When I went to the Convocation on Equality 10 years ago, I took my judicial clerk, new lawyer Akira Heshiki. (It would probably be more accurate to say that she took me, or at least that her presence in my life prompted me to go.) Now Akira is past chair of the Diversity Section executive committee and one of the three leading planners of a new Convocation on Equality to be held on Nov. 4, 2011. Akira asked me to be on the steering committee — a role I would not have anticipated in 2001.

At this year’s convocation I look forward to surveying the garden planted 10 years ago, observing how things are growing, and planning for the future. As with all gardens, some seeds sprouted and others didn’t. Some ideas took root and flourished. Some sprouted with vigor, then withered. Some suggestions bore fruit even better than the plant catalog promised. What can we learn from all that? What new seeds can we plant? What new ways have people developed to cultivate a diverse and inclusive bar in Oregon.

In the 10 years since the first convocation, many have tended the garden, weeding, feeding, staking and watering. This work is not easy, and much of it is not at all glorious. Burnout is a real risk. There are at least 10 bushels of weeds to be pulled for every bushel of vegetables or armload of flowers that make it to the table. We will spend some time at the coming convocation tending the gardeners themselves. I look forward to honoring the unsung weeders, along with the master gardeners in starring roles.

For most of us, the gardening season is cyclical. In the spring, I’m full of energy to till and plant. I am like a child checking every day to see what has sprouted. As summer comes, I am proud to serve a meal that came from the backyard. After the main harvest is done in late fall, after I’ve canned countless pints and quarts of beans and beets and tomatoes, I confess I’m a bit tired of it. Occasionally I wonder if I want to take the next year off. Then one day in the dead of winter, the first seed catalog arrives and my pulse quickens at the beautiful pictures and poetic descriptions. I am inspired by new varieties and techniques.

Your seed catalog, an invitation to the 2011 Convocation on Equality, will be coming soon.


The Hon. Janice R. Wilson, a judge since 1991, chairs the Multnomah County Circuit Court Civil Motion Panel. She is a member of the OSB Diversity Section.

© 2011 Hon. Janice R. Wilson

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