Hispanic Bar Group Sees Need For More Progress
There are dozens of reasons why someone chooses to become a lawyer. For Milagros Cruz, it was being "born here," in the mainland United States, that influenced her decision to go to law school.
Her parents were from Puerto Rico and their story was an inspiration. "My mom made the trip here and she instilled in me the desire to push myself in everything I do," Cruz said.
Even though Cruz, who was born in Manhattan, has been working as an attorney in Connecticut for about 25 years, she considers herself part of a relatively "new wave" of Hispanic lawyers.
According to the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association, which Cruz helped organize in 1993, of the estimated 20,000 attorneys practicing in the state, some 300 are Latino. Although that's double the number of two decades ago, it's a modest increase of about 50 attorneys since 2004.
In fact, Hispanic attorneys make up only about 1.5 percent of the state bar, significantly lower than the 3.7 percent of lawyers nationwide who identify themselves as Hispanic.
Erick Diaz, an attorney with the Hayber Law Firm in Hartford and president of the CHBA, isn't exactly sure what to make of the Connecticut statistics.
"There are always people who choose not to self-identify" as Hispanic, he said. "And I'm not aware of any organization that tracks that kind of data." Nonetheless, Diaz continued, "it is safe to say that Hispanic attorneys are clearly underrepresented in the legal field, especially when compared to the fact that 14 percent of Connecticut's general population is Hispanic."
The Hispanic bar group, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next month, has made it a priority improve those numbers and to raise awareness about the need for more diversity among Connecticut's state judges.
The bar group also has been vocal on issues of importance to the Latino community as a whole. Earlier this year, the group wrote a letter to Gov. Dannel Malloy in support of an initiative to allow undocumented immigrants to get drivers' licenses. The group also wrote a letter to the Connecticut U.S. attorney in support of sanctions against East Haven police officers accused of violating Latinos' civil rights.
In addition, the bar group organizes pro bono efforts to benefit the Hispanic community, including holding seminars for undocumented workers on gaining citizenship and housing. These efforts have the dual purpose of bringing together CHBA members from different practice areas and allowing them to network.