Supporting Women Lawyers of Color:
Interview of Elizabeth Diaz, President of the SBCBA, on the Diversity & Inclusion Task Force

By Monique L. Fierro, Civil Litigation Attorney at Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC

I first met Elizabeth Diaz in her capacity as the Managing Attorney of the Family Violence Prevention Program at the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County.  It was there that she used her position to mentor numerous young students aspiring to become attorneys, including me.  As a first-generation Mexican American student, I was the first in my mother’s family and my father’s family to become an attorney.  It was so meaningful to intern with and learn from an attorney who understood my cultural background without having to explain. Ms. Diaz took the time to teach me and inspired me to succeed in the law while also giving back to the community in a meaningful way, helping survivors of domestic violence.

Thus, it was an immense honor when I was invited to speak on a panel this past October with Ms. Diaz as part of the Santa Barbara County Bar Association’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force’s efforts to mentor students interested in the law.

It was so wonderful to see so many students interested in becoming attorneys, but more importantly, students who prioritized and wanted to have an open and honest discussion about the challenges that women lawyers of color face in the legal profession.

Nevertheless, I was left with the nagging question of how I can not only mentor the next generation of women lawyers of color, but how I and others can make things better for the next generation. How can we continue to break down barriers and inequalities facing women of color? One small way is to learn more about, to support, and to build up the women lawyers of color in our community.

Thus, this article is in support of Ms. Diaz and the phenomenal work she has done as the first Latina attorney board president of the Santa Barbara County Bar Association.

Ms. Diaz was gracious enough to answer the following interview questions about her work on the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.  I hope that her work and responses inspire you as much as they did me.

Interview with SBCBA Board President, Elizabeth Diaz

1. What inspired you to start the task force? 

I am the first Hispanic attorney to be the SBCBA board president, and the 11th woman.  It was 2020 when I became president and the organization had been in existence since 1878, and I asked myself why did it take so long to have a Hispanic bar president, and why have there been a small number of women presidents.  So when I was asked what I wanted to do as bar president, I immediately thought of having a more diverse bar association.  A few months into 2020, the pandemic hit, and no one knew what to expect.  Not being able to do much as bar president in 2020, I asked to remain president for a second year so I could work on having a diverse and inclusive bar association.

In late 2020, I started with the SBCBA board members and asked for volunteers to be part of the task force, and I got some volunteers. I then reached out to a few people, and they agreed to sit on the task force.  I found out that the SBWL was also interested in doing something involving diversity and I reached out to them and got another volunteer that agreed to be the SBWL representative sitting on the task force.  That got me thinking that we should include other legal organizations and asked other legal organizations if they wanted to collaborate on this effort of diversity and inclusion in the legal field.  We currently have representation and participation from SBWL, Northern Santa Barbara County Bar Association, SB Barristers, and SBCB Foundation.

2. What’s the goal of the task force?

The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force was created to promote access, diversity, and inclusion amongst professionals in the local legal community.

The Task Force established the following goals:

  • Provide education on diversity to the local legal community; and
  • Create a Mentorship/Scholarship Program for students

Under the first goal, the task force was to (1) create a survey for legal professionals to determine the depth of diversity in the legal community and share the results; (2) offer at least one presentation focusing on the topic of diversity; (3) create a list of resources for law firms and legal organizations on hiring a diverse workforce, and create future content for the SB Lawyer magazine and the SBCBA blog on the topic of diversity.

As to the second goal, the task force intended to (1) create a program for students of color to connect with legal professionals and obtain information about becoming a lawyer and insight into a career in law; and (2) create a scholarship program to help students of diverse backgrounds with expenses related to the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) or California’s State Bar examination.

3. What are you most proud of from this first year?

What I am most proud of is what we have been able to accomplish.  The task force created the survey and we had a great response.  We plan to share the results in an upcoming article in the SB Lawyer magazine and it will be shared by the other legal organizations.  The task force also created a diversity and inclusion resource guide that was sent out to our membership and to the other legal organizations.  The guide had links to various resources such as books, articles and videos on the topic of diversity in the workplace and in the legal profession.

I am also really proud of the mentorship program created for students in particular students of color and diverse backgrounds to connect with legal professional via career panels and internships. This year the task force held a career panel in October for Santa Barbara City College students The career panel included myself, attorney Monique L. Fierro with Bamieh & De Smeth, and Judge Von Deroian, with a special appearance by Judge George Eskin.  A second career panel was held in November for University of California, Santa Barbara students.  The career panel included myself, attorney Claire K. Mitchell with Rimon Law, and Judge Gustavo Lavayen.  The career panels were a great success as they allowed the students to learn from the panelists’ personal and professional experiences.

4. What do you hope to accomplish next year?

The task force is working with Santa Barbara Women Lawyers and the Santa Barbara County Bar Foundation to create a special scholarship to help students of diverse backgrounds with expenses related to the Law School Administration Test (LSAT) or California’s State Bar examination. We are currently completing the guidelines and procedures and hope to have the unveiling of the scholarship program in 2022 and begin accepting donations shortly thereafter. It is our hope to begin giving out scholarships in 2023.

We also will be working on a presentation on diversity in 2022.  Adding to the diversity and inclusion resource list and have more articles and blogs on diversity.  We also will continue holding career panels for students.

My hope is that the task force will become a permanent committee that will carry on the goals we have set up and set and work on new goals to promote access, diversity, and inclusion the legal profession.