Hispanic National Bar Association (www.hnba.com)
Ramona E. Romero, President
Marisel Morales, Executive Director
Founded in California in 1972 as La Raza National Lawyers Association, the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) has grown to represent the interests of the more than 43,000 Hispanic attorneys in the United States, as well as those of Latino judges and law students across the country. Its mission is to advocate for equal justice, diversity, and inclusiveness for the more than the 45 million Hispanics in the United States and Puerto Rico. It pursues its missions by promoting Hispanics in the legal profession and by serving the Hispanic community through education and advocacy.
This year, the HNBA not only welcomes a new president, Ramona E. Romero, but also a new executive director, Marisel Morales. As it happens, both women immigrated to the United States at age 11 without knowing a word of English (Romero from the Dominican Republic; Morales from Cuba).
Romero was raised by her mother, who worked at a factory making purses in New York’s garment district. From those humble beginnings, she would go to Harvard, become a leader for Hispanic rights, and come to work for DuPont, where she is corporate counsel for logistics and energy. In 2007, Hispanic Business Magazine identified her as one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in the United States.
Morales brings a wealth of experience to her new post. Prior to joining the HNBA, she served as a government and public affairs consultant specializing in community relations and multicultural issues. From 2001 to 2004, she was the regional director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Region II (NY/NJ) office. In that role, she oversaw the delivery of funds to New York after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. She will be directing the HNBA’s day-to-day operations, supervising staff, and supporting the association’s board of governors. “The HNBA is a solid organization poised to play a key role in addressing many of the critical issues impacting our nation and in particular, the Latino community today,” says Morales. “I am elated to have been selected its executive director and be a part of the team that takes the HNBA to new heights.”
With Hispanics the largest and fastest-growing minority segment of the population (in 2007, 15 percent of the U.S. population was Hispanic; by 2050, 29 percent will be Hispanic), the HNBA plays an important role in increasing Hispanic representation in the legal profession. “The HNBA brings a unique perspective to the ongoing dialogue concerning diversity,” notes Romero. “Latinos are underrepresented in every major segment of the profession, both in relationship to their presence in the general population and among lawyers. Hispanics trail both African Americans and Asian Americans among law firm partners and associates, and in the general counsel ranks of the Fortune 1000. One of my goals as HNBA president is to help the profession understand why Hispanic lawyers are proportionately less represented than both Caucasians and other minority groups in most practice settings.”
Romero reflects on the consequences if the ranks of Hispanic attorneys remain stagnant. “Lawyers make, interpret, and enforce the law. If our underrepresentation in the profession continues, Latinos may perceive the legal process as illegitimate and biased, undermining public trust.” To help address this concern, the HNBA boasts the largest job fair for Hispanic lawyers and law students, matching employers with hundreds of talented job seekers.
“The HNBA’s singular and national focus on Latinos in the profession and on legal policy issues relevant to Hispanics distinguishes it from all other national bar associations…”
In addition to increasing the number of Hispanic lawyers, the HNBA is gearing up to increase the number of Hispanics in the executive branch and on the federal bench, including the Supreme Court. Next year will introduce a new presidential administration, and the HNBA is already identifying and vetting candidates for government positions through its network of affiliates and regional presidents. It plans to present a list of potential Hispanic appointees to the new president’s transition team. It is only a matter of time before the first Hispanic is appointed to the Supreme Court.
The HNBA is also seeking to promote the creation of the first national museum celebrating the contributions of Hispanics to this country. That prospect took a step closer to reality when Congress passed a bill creating a 23-member panel to study the viability of a National Museum of the Latino Community in Washington, D.C. “During their recent Legislative Day, HNBA visited Capitol Hill, and met with legislators to express its positions on various issues, including their support of the museum,” notes Morales. Legislative Day, which began in 2007, provides an opportunity for HNBA members to be briefed by the White House about issues relevant to the Hispanic community and allows the HNBA to lobby on issues important to its members.
“In addition to meeting with the White House and Congress, the HNBA honored several members of Congress for their support of legislation favoring the goals of the Hispanic community, in particular their support of the National Museum of the American Latino Community Commission Act,” says Morales. This year’s honorees included Senator Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Senator Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).
In short, the HNBA’s “raison d’être is to serve as the national voice of the Latino legal community,” says Romero. “The HNBA’s singular and national focus on Latinos in the profession and on legal policy issues relevant to Hispanics distinguishes it from all other national bar associations, from state and local Hispanic bars, and from Latino civil rights organizations.” It is an organization that will grow in size and influence in the years to come, just as the community it represents will grow. DB
Calendar of Upcoming HNBA Events
March 5-7, 2009
Mid-Year Conference and Moot Court Competition
June 11-13, 2009
Summit on Trade and Commercial Legal Developments in the America
May 6, 2009
Annual Legislative Day
September 3-6, 2009
34th Annual Convention
Francisco Ramos Jr., Esq., is a freelance writer and partner at the Miami-based offices of Clarke Silvergate Campbell.
From the September/October 2008 issue of Diversity & The Bar®