‘Help Make It Better’

Group Plans Oregon’s First Diversity Legal Job Fair

By Kevin Barton and Iván Resendiz Gutierrez

This article originally appeared in the January 2021 issue of the Oregon State Bar Bulletin. It is shared here with permission from the OSB and the authors.

The past year has been challenging for many Oregonians, and the legal profession is no exception.  Layoffs, furloughs and lost networking opportunities brought about by the pandemic have impacted attorneys and law students alike.

For communities of color, these challenges have been compounded by the tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the most recent reminders of a long history of racial inequity in our society and justice system.

But while the challenges of 2020 could understandably result in paralysis, they also provide motivation for action. And that’s why a group of community leaders has come together to plan Oregon’s first-annual Diversity Legal Job Fair, which is scheduled to occur virtually on March 9-10, 2021.

The goal is simple: to connect diverse legal professionals with employers in order to build a legal profession that reflects the community it serves.   

Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton proposed the job fair and assembled a steering committee of community and bar leaders to plan the event.  He says he was inspired to act after listening to Nkenge Harmon Johnson, an attorney and executive director of the Urban League of Portland, discuss the necessity for action.

“Do something,” Harmon Johnson said. “Read a book, educate yourself, listen to a Ted Talk.  Do something to help make it better.”

At the time she spoke those words, Harmon Johnson and Barton were on a group video call planning the fifth-annual Building Bridges of Understanding event, which is intended to connect leaders from law enforcement and the community to discuss racial justice issues and promote greater understanding. This year's event was different, though, because of the vocal demands for racial equity across our community and the world.

It felt impossible to plan an event for the future, Barton says, without first addressing what had brought society to this important moment in time – and as the father of multiracial children, he says, he was struck by Harmon Johnson’s plea to “do something.”

“I found myself wondering how the world would see and treat my children, people who I love more than myself,” he says, adding that as the elected district attorney for the fastest-growing and most diverse county in Oregon, he believes that the duty to promote justice includes ensuring principles of equity for everyone in the community.

“I felt an obligation to act,” Barton says.  “While I believe people are basically good, I see through my work on a daily basis the very worst that one person can do to another, and I know evil and racism exist.”

The steering committee for the job fair includes representatives from the Urban League of Portland, members of Oregon’s affinity and specialty bars and the Oregon State Bar, and various public- and private-sector legal employers.  Support was immediate and overwhelming: The Urban League of Portland and a local firm called Update Management volunteered to help organize the event; Bullivant, Houser, Bailey and the Oregon Association of Defense Counsel agreed to be presenting sponsors, providing the funding necessary to host the event virtually.

They were joined by a growing list of supporters, including Miller Nash Graham & Dunn, Bullard Law and the Oregon District Attorney’s Association.

Creating an Oregon Diversity Legal Job Fair is important, Barton says, because of the role attorneys and legal professionals have in ensuring all members of our society have access to and confidence in our justice system. The mission of the Oregon State Bar is “to serve justice and the public interest by promoting respect for the rule of law, by improving the quality of legal services, and by increasing access to justice.”  In order to accomplish this mission, he says, working to ensure that Oregon attorneys reflect the society they serve is axiomatic.

Put simply: “Clients, victims, witnesses, jurors and the public deserve attorneys who are representative of our community,” Barton says.

But unlike its neighbors to the north and south, Oregon has no diversity legal job fair. While there are several excellent initiatives for law students, such as the bar’s Opportunities for Law in Oregon (OLIO) program,1 the closest diversity legal job fair for attorneys is the Northwest Minority Job Fair in Seattle. Now, the Oregon Diversity Legal Job Fair will connect diverse attorneys, paralegals and other legal professionals with employers closer to home. 

“When I heard about the idea of an Oregon-focused diversity legal job fair, it immediately resonated with me and inspired me to act,” says Lloyd Bernstein, shareholder-in-charge of Bullivant, Houser, Bailey’s Portland office and immediate past president of the Oregon Association of Defense Counsel.  “Like many, my law firm revisited its diversity and inclusion practices following the George Floyd killing. As a part of its renewed efforts to reach out and partner with other groups to help diversify the Oregon legal community, Bullivant Houser signed on as a presenting sponsor.”

“Along the same lines, the Oregon Association of Defense Counsel — a group of over 550 civil defense attorneys across Oregon — also joined as a presenting sponsor,” Bernstein notes. “We know that a collaborative effort is required to improve diversity and inclusion in the practice of law so that we can better connect our members with the community we serve.”

Iván Resendiz Gutierrez, a litigation and appellate attorney at Miller Nash Graham & Dunn, agrees with Bernstein. “The event easily gained momentum,” he says, “because of the great need it fills.”

Resendiz Gutierrez says he became involved with the job fair because he sees it as a concrete step toward change — and because it resonates with the words of President Obama: "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change we seek." 

Resendiz Gutierrez approaches his role on the steering committee with a unique perspective shaped by his own personal background. As a multiracial, first-generation high school, college and law school graduate, proud son of Mexican immigrants and proud brother of two members of the U.S. Armed Forces, he says he tries to be an agent of change. He served as president of the Oregon Hispanic Bar Association and currently serves as a co-chair of the Oregon Minority Lawyers Association and a member of his firm's Diversity & Inclusion Committee.

“I believe that if the bar is going to reflect the public it serves — which it should — Oregon legal employers must act now and shift focus from the ‘business case’ for racial diversity to embracing a moral one,” Resendiz Gutierrez says. “They cannot simply ask, ‘What's the most lucrative thing to do?’  They must also ask, ‘What's the right thing to do?’”

Liani Reeves, the Oregon State Bar’s immediate past president, is also a member of the job fair’s steering committee, and she echoes Resendiz Gutierrez’s words.

“We believe that now is the time to make a difference,” she says. “An Oregon Diversity Legal Job Fair sends an important message about how our Oregon bar prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in attorney and paralegal hiring.”

Reeves notes that “in a profession that has historically put up barriers for women and people of color, especially women of color, it is incredibly important to build space to support and promote legal professionals from underrepresented backgrounds.” 

She believes that a job fair is a starting place to connect diverse candidates with Oregon legal employers — but not the ending place.  “We hope that Oregon firms, businesses and government entities take advantage of this opportunity not only to hire, but also to take the next step to build a culture that supports and retains diverse talent,” Reeves says. “Building a legal profession that reflects the diversity of the community is an incredibly important step toward achieving access to justice and building confidence in the justice system and the rule of law.”

The inaugural Oregon Diversity Legal Job Fair will be held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, its software platform will enable employers and applicants to interact, network and conduct video job interviews. Additionally, the virtual format will create the opportunity for employers from throughout Oregon to connect with potential applicants regardless of geography.

The event will be free for applicants, with a nominal charge for employers. 

Steering committee members are already thinking about next steps after the March job fair. “I’m hopeful that our diversity legal job fair is a success and potentially becomes a model for other communities throughout the nation,” says attorney Melissa Bobadilla, a sole practitioner plaintiff’s attorney and steering committee member.

But in order for the event to be successful, participation from Oregon’s legal employers, both public and private, is essential.  “Please spread the word to your colleagues and peers,” Resendiz Gutierrez says, “so that we can generate maximum participation to make this job fair a new annual tradition that recognizes our shared obligation to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.”

For more information, visit www.ODLJF.org.

Kevin Barton is the district attorney for Washington County; reach him at Kevin_Barton@co.washington.or.us. Iván Resendiz Gutierrez is a litigation and appellate attorney at Miller Nash Graham & Dunn; reach him at ivan.resendiz@millernash.com.


1. OLIO is part of the bar’s recruitment and retention efforts. Its focus is for law students who can contribute to the bar's historically or currently underrepresented membership; have experienced economic, social or other barriers; have personally experienced discrimination or oppression; or can otherwise demonstrate a commitment to advancing the bar's diversity and inclusion mission. Learn more at www.osbar.org/diversity.

January 21, 2021