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Bar honors diversity efforts

The State Bar last month presented the 2010 Diversity and Education Pipeline Awards to attorneys, firms, bar associations and education programs for their diversity efforts.

The recipients are Mia Frances Yamamoto of Los Angeles in the Individual Attorney category, San Francisco-based Farella Braun + Martel LLP in the Law Firm category, the Alameda County Bar Association in the Bar Association category and Deer Valley High School Law Academy in the Education Pipeline category.

A co-founder of the Asian Pacific Islander Law Student Association at UCLA in 1969 and a founding member of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association in 1998, Yamamoto, 66, has mentored hundreds of students and young lawyers. She helped create the Multicultural Bar Alliance of Southern California, a coalition of minority, women and LGBT bar associations. In 1995, Yamamoto served as president of the Japanese American Bar Association and also has served as president of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice.

In 2005, Yamamoto, who had been known as Michael, completed her male-to-female transition. As an Asian Pacific American transgender woman attorney, she has been open about talking about her experience in an effort to let others in her situation know that they are not alone, seeing her role in her community as one of “giving hope” and assisting in “forcing a place in society and in the world” for all. She speaks often on access to justice and elimination of bias.

A graduate of California State University, Los Angeles, and UCLA School of Law, Yamamoto also was the recipient of the 2008 ABA Spirit of Excellence Award for her work in promoting a more diverse legal profession.

Farella Braun + Martel has a longstanding commitment to diversity. The firm has a diversity manager, is a signatory to the Bar Association of San Francisco “Goals and Timetables for Minority Hiring” and to the “No Glass Ceiling Initiative,” and it took the State Bar pledge to hire people with disabilities and chronic medical conditions. The firm regularly recruits at regional and national minority/diversity job fairs and it has created a diversity client outreach initiative to highlight the firm’s diversity programs and accomplishments among current and prospective clients, to identify opportunities to help corporate law departments achieve diversity goals and to provide practice development and client contact experience for the firm’s diverse attorneys.

The 130-attorney firm, which represents clients in business transactions and commercial, civil and criminal litigation, also holds regular diversity workshops with well-known experts in the field, and has taken a lead in national diversity conferences and efforts. The firm also has a diversity scholarship program and a diversity internship program.

The Alameda County Bar Association (ACBA) includes diversity in its annual strategic plan, among other actions, and the results have shown in the numbers. In an ABA Survey, ACBA had the highest number of presidents of color among the 59 bars. The number of women, lawyers of color and LGBT lawyers on the ACBA board of directors, committees and sections over the past 10 years has consistently increased. For example, in 2001, the percentage of women and people of color on the board averaged 20 percent compared to an average 50 percent this year.

The bar promotes diversity on the bench with its judicial mentoring program, shares its popular report, “Creating and Sustaining a Diverse Bar Association,” with other bar associations and works to promote equal rights and oppose discrimination.

Deer Valley High School Law Academy was launched in August 2009 after two years of planning and development with participation by the school district, the high school, the Contra Costa County Bar Association and local attorneys and judges. Students are from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and engage in a rigorous curriculum focusing on a wide range of careers in the legal profession, including law enforcement, court systems and other related professions in the private or public sector.