The days when a Cuban American lawyer might walk into a court room in Miami-Dade County and be reprimanded by a judge for his or her accent are, thankfully, long behind us. Although individual instances of discrimination may remain, inequality towards Cuban American attorneys – as well as attorneys of other minority groups – has largely waned.
Much of the progress that has been made in the treatment of minority lawyers in South Florida over the years can be attributed to the work of the Cuban American Bar Association (CABA). CABA, which formed originally in 1974, is a non-profit voluntary bar association in Florida comprised of judges, lawyers, and law students largely of Cuban and Cuban-American descent.
As an organization, CABA's mission includes the promotion of equality for its members; preservation of high standards of integrity, honor, and professional courtesy among its peers; and providing equal access to and adequate representation of minorities before the courts.
On Monday, the Miami Law chapter of the Hispanic Law Students Association welcomed CABA's president-elect, Sandra M. Ferrera, and its secretary, Nicole Mestre, for a luncheon to discuss CABA's role and function in the South Florida legal community.
Ferrera and Mestre – who met at Miami Law as members of the Class of 1999 – spoke of CABA's general mission and some of the organization's efforts toward promoting equality in the legal profession for its members – Cuban and non-Cuban alike.
"One of the important things that CABA does is to make sure that there is sensitivity, so that when you go in court before a judge, you're treated with respect and dignity and not looked down upon," explained Fererra.
To that end, CABA provides education to the non-attorney population in order to provide information about judicial elections. Providing such education ensures that citizens are fully informed on judges before going to the ballot box.
Through CABA's efforts, the Florida judiciary has become increasingly diverse, explained Mestes. Outside of Miami-Dade County, however, lack of diversity in the courts continues to persist. "If you go to a Broward County courthouse," explained Mestes, "and you're Hispanic and they see you're from Miami, you still get a little bit of brush back."
Beyond discussing CABA's efforts to diversify the Florida judiciary, Ferrera and Mestre underscored the importance and positive impact that networking and involvement in professional organizations such as CABA can have on a young lawyer's career.
To this day, many of the professional relationships that Ferrera and Mestes have formed originated during their time at Miami Law. "The people you meet today are ultimately who you will develop with over the years, and to whom you will send business in the future," Fererra said. "The importance of networking and building these relationships cannot be understated."
Ferrera and Mestes stressed the importance of students being proactive when it comes to attending networking events. Whether at a CABA event, or a function sponsored by another organization, Ferrera encouraged students to do as much as they can to get face time with practicing attorneys, even if only having a chance to spend a few minutes talking with them. "It puts students on the map as far as making relationships," she said.
In the end, it is the relationships students foster early on that will help determine the trajectory of their careers. Ferrera implored students not to get hung up on the embarrassment of emailing attorneys to ask for meetings. "Take away all your fears and ask us to lunch, ask us to breakfast," she said. "If you want to pick our brain, let us know what you're interested in. We have a lot of contacts."
For more information on Cuban American Bar Association and how you can get involved, please visit http://www.cabaonline.com/.