GUEST COLUMN: Leaving a Lasting Legacy on the State Bar of Arizona 

By Benjamin Taylor
Tucson Attorney
Outgoing President of State Bar of Arizona

The State Bar of Arizona made history in June 2023 when it unanimously elected the first Black president in the 91-year history of the organization. With a one-year term, we had a lot of work to do in a short amount of time and it was my goal to make lasting changes. 

The president of the State Bar is tasked with overseeing Arizona attorneys and judges, implementing new initiatives and ensuring the judicial system is honest and fair for everyone. 

In the last year, the top priority was to increase diversity in the State Bar. When named the first Black president of the State Bar, it was pertinent to ensure the organization has people of all races, identities, backgrounds, ages and gender contributing ideas and making the organization welcoming to all.

According to the National Association for Law Placement, in 2020, people of color only made up 26% of associates in U.S. law firms and Black people only made up 4.5% of lawyers in the U.S. While this is an increase from previous years, these are small fractions of the people that make up the entirety of the judicial system. 

When I first joined the Bar, there were very few people of color as members and in leadership positions. It felt like a daunting challenge to serve on the leadership team, especially as a Black man, but after joining the board and being named president six years later, change was in motion. 

As a Black president leading the organization, my focus was to open the doors for many other BIPOC lawyers and judges in Arizona and ensure they have a voice in the State Bar. Representation in the law is key in making people of color feel seen, having increased opportunities, and connecting with a like-minded community. 

Representation also makes us better community members, more understanding lawyers and a well-rounded justice system. We see thousands of cases with no two looking alike and no two clients looking alike. It is our duty to ensure we can see their perspective to offer them an honest and fair trial. 

Not only has BIPOC representation increased, but in the last year, we have extended State Bar resources to law students at Arizona State University and UArizona creating a pipeline of younger lawyers for the State Bar. These bright young men and women’s contributions offer unique perspectives, innovative ideas and fingers on the pulse of today’s modern legal issues. 

The State Bar of Arizona has also created programs and legal clinics to help low-income individuals who cannot afford an attorney. With more than 25,000 judges and lawyers in the State Bar, many have signed up to offer volunteer their time offering free legal advice to minority communities statewide. 

While we have elected the first Black president, extended resources to a more diverse group of people, and are serving more people of color, there is still so much more work to be done in Arizona. 

It is my goal as the outgoing president that the next president stepping into this role continues to move forward with increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion for all. Ted Schmidt will be taking over as State Bar of Arizona president. 

With me and a diverse group of lawyers and judges standing beside him, we are optimistic Schmidt will lead the organization well. We are full of hope for the future of the organization and the future of justice in Arizona with the intelligent and diverse group of members that make up the State Bar of Arizona.

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