As I look back on 2020, it makes me think of how bar associations have always held a very special space in my heart. When I was growing up in Hawaii, my mom spent thirteen years as executive director of the Hawaii State Bar Association. She would often take me and my siblings with her to the tenth floor of the office building on Alakea Street. We called the staff “aunties,” and they would let us take over the conference room, where we would shoot rubber bands as we weaved under tables and between chairs, and make balls of rubber cement. In many ways, bar associations have always felt like a second home.
For this reason, joining the Barristers Club and the Bar Association of San Francisco has felt like coming home. I did not know anyone when I moved to San Francisco for law school, and so had to find my community here. I am so grateful I found one in the Barristers Club, and serving as Barristers President this year has felt like a homecoming of sorts.
As 2020 draws to a close, it is an understatement to say it feels very different from the waning months of 2019. While it is easy to focus on and list this year’s struggles, injustice, and adversity, it is important to reflect also on our triumphs, joys, and transformation. Here is what I am most proud of Barristers for accomplishing in a very difficult year.
Racial Justice Initiative
When the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery shook this nation into action, the Barristers stepped up to create the Racial Justice Initiative (RJI). Over the span of five months, the RJI put on ten programs aimed at educating not only the legal community, but also the public on issues ranging from Know Your Rights training to qualified immunity to the racial justice impact of California ballot propositions.
Our largest event brought together leaders in the San Francisco police and criminal justice community in a Town Hall on Police Accountability, Oversight, and Discipline. We focused on intersectionality and elevating voices of minority women, who are often overlooked, with a panel on the ABA report “Left Out and Left Behind.” We even weaved these issues into our annual Judges Reception through our keynote speaker, Equal Justice Society founder Eva Paterson, and our honoree, Judge Lawrence E. Kahn, speaking out for racial justice. We had over 600 people register for these programs, telling us that there is an interest and need to address the racial justice issues we face.
Diversity in the Legal Profession
At the start of the year, we called upon fellow Minority Bar Coalition members to form the Barristers Diversity Task Force. Through countless meetings and the leadership of Barristers Club Diversity Directors Ernest Hammond III and Sydney Allen, the task force created the Barristers Club’s first-ever Diversity Conference. Barristers recognized at the start of this year that we were heading towards an economic recession, and facing the danger of law firms and organizations cutting diversity programming and initiatives in these times. This conference is aimed at providing the countervailing point—that this is precisely when companies must follow through with their commitment to diversity, while dismantling toxic cultures and building inclusive environments.
Leadership Development and Practical Skills
The Barristers Club knows that junior attorneys are often asked to manage people, lead teams, build their brand, and write strategies. However, they are rarely given any formal training in how to do so. The Barristers Leadership Development Series put on programming on leadership fundamentals, managing teams, and advocating for yourself to do just that. We examined surveys showing that Barristers were interested in learning about how to become a judge, and pulled together a panel of judges that included then Judicial Appointments Secretary and now California Supreme Court Justice Martin Jenkins.
Supporting Law Students
Law students have been especially hard hit by the pandemic. We focused on providing students with programming on finding a job, advancing your legal career during a recession, and exploring different career paths. When the February 2020 bar exam passers could not be sworn in in person, Barristers partnered with other bar associations to hold a virtual swearing-in ceremony featuring three presiding judges and Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Responding to the Pandemic
Finally, when coronavirus struck, our section and committee leaders quickly pivoted and organized over a dozen COVID-19 programs. This included substantive MCLEs on novel legal issues, from construction to real estate to criminal law. We focused not only on how to continue practicing law at the highest level, but also how to cope with the new shelter-in-place restrictions. We provided support groups through Barristers #TeaTimes, and our Wellness Committee hosted courses on everything from fitness and nutrition to how to cook creatively.
Beyond new programming, we succeeded in maintaining our signature programs such as the Barristers Open House, Judges Reception, Annual Meeting, and Holiday Party. The logistical challenges of converting these to online, virtual events was tough. However, we explored new technology that permitted us to deliver fun and novel ways to network through the pandemic. This allowed Barristers to continue providing our biggest and best service to our members—community-building.
In total, Barristers provided a record-breaking ninety-plus programs with 2,500 registrants for our events. That the Barristers Club was able to exceed the number of programs that we have ever accomplished during a pandemic speaks volumes to the leadership of the Barristers Board and co-chairs. I am so thankful to our leaders, as well as Barristers Club Director Angie Coleman-Levy and BASF for their support. The year 2020 was a great one for Barristers, and I am sure 2021 will be even better.
About the Author:
Kelly Matayoshi is a senior associate at Farella Braun + Martel and the current Barristers Club President. Her practice focuses on business litigation and employment, with a focus on the consumer products industry.