(Boston, Revised 11/17/10) New England Law | Boston: Minority law students represent “an elite class,” said Chief Justice Joseph F. Baca (retired), New Mexico Supreme Court, and that special position comes with unique responsibilities. He exhorted students at New England Law | Boston’s 27th Annual Minority Students/Alumni Banquet to go beyond customary career paths and aim squarely for positions of prominence and power.
The annual banquet, which took place this year on September 24, brings together successful minority graduates and current students to celebrate diversity and provide mentoring opportunities.
Chief Justice Baca, the first member of his family to attend law school, emphasized the privileged nature of the banquet audience. “You who have been offered the opportunity to study law here are numbered in an elite class,” he said. “There are relatively few minorities sharing this position with you today. ABA statistics show fewer African American and Mexican Americans starting law school today than in the past.”
“Because you are a chosen few,” he continued, “with this elite status come great responsibilities. One of the first responsibilities you have is to refuse to be stereotyped, to refuse to be placed in a niche, to in effect ‘know your place.’ You also have an affirmative obligation to move into areas where minorities have not gone before.”
He reviewed the conventional roles of minority attorneys. “Minorities have traditionally been clustered in small law firms doing plaintiff’s personal injury work or representing criminal defendants. Minorities have also worked in civil service and have filled many government jobs.” While emphasizing that there is “nothing wrong or demeaning” about these careers, he asked attendees to consider aiming for the “power structure of the law,” including partnerships in large firms. “This next level of involvement,” he said, “will open up opportunities, not only for us, but those who follow us.”
Chief Justice Baca served on the New Mexico Supreme Court from 1989 to 2002 and was chief justice from 1994 to 1997. His extensive American Bar Association service includes membership on the ABA’s Law School Accreditation Committee, the Task Force on Opportunities for Minorities in Law Schools and Opportunities for Minorities in the Judiciary, and the executive committee of the Appellate Judges Conference of the Judicial Division.
Chief Justice Baca also spoke about the importance of service, noting that it was through his ABA committee work that he met New England Law Dean John F. O’Brien and had the opportunity to visit other law schools in this country and abroad.
His awards include the J. William Fulbright Award for Distinguished Public Service from George Washington University Law School and the Outstanding Judicial Service Award from the New Mexico Bar Association. He is a member of the American Law Institute and many other judicial and legal organizations and was twice named as one of the "100 Most Influential Hispanics" in America by Hispanic Business magazine.
Chief Justice Baca is a graduate of the University of New Mexico and received a J.D. from George Washington University Law School. He received an LL.M. from the University of Virginia Law School.