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Lecture to explore challenges of diversity in multicultural society


November 01, 2012

Phoenix attorney Lonnie J. Williams Jr., a partner with Stinson Morrison Hecker, LLP, will deliver the 13th annual John P. Morris Memorial Lecture, Nov. 13, at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.

Williams will address the question: “What is Your Personal Responsibility in Addressing the Challenges of Diversity in Our Multicultural Society?” The lecture, hosted by the John P. Morris Black Law Students Association, is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m., in Armstrong Hall, on ASU’s Tempe campus.

It is free and open to the public, and tickets are available at morrislecture2012.eventbrite.com.

The lecture honors the late John Peyton Morris, a faculty member at the College of Law from 1968 to 1993, who was committed to the principles of justice and equal opportunity and worked tirelessly throughout his life to foster diversity.

“The Morris Lecture, as one of our premier public events, addresses issues of historical and continued importance to our democracy,” said Douglas Sylvester, dean of the College of Law. 

“The question of diversity, in our schools and in society, is one of social and, with the impending Fisher decision, legal importance. Yet these questions seem beyond our individual capacities and, more often than not, are framed as government issues rather than personal imperatives.

“Having Mr. Williams deliver this year’s lecture will give all of us the opportunity to reassess our personal connections with multiculturalism and diversity. Whatever your current views may be on these issues, I am certain that his lecture will be informative, provocative and important,” Sylvester continued. “I hope to see our entire community come out to honor the memory of a great man, John P. Morris.”

Professor and Dean Emeritus Alan Matheson, a close friend and colleague of professor Morris, recalled his remarkable career.

“John was an exceptional, multitalented human being,” Matheson said. “He was a popular teacher, a mentor to all students, both law students and university undergraduates, an entrepreneur in the best sense of the term and, importantly and effectively, a champion of basic constitutional and personal rights. Having experienced discrimination firsthand, John spent his life removing barriers to equal opportunity for everyone.”

Myles V. Lynk, the Peter Kiewit Foundation Professor of Law and the Legal Profession, called Williams one of the most respected labor and employment trial attorneys in the United States.

“When Lonnie Williams returned to Arizona in the 1980s after graduating from Yale Law School, he was one of the first African-American lawyers, if not the first, to work in a major law firm in the city,” said Lynk, faculty advisor of the John P. Morris Black Law Students Association. “Since then and throughout his career, he has blazed a path of excellence and demonstrated the value of diversity in the profession that can serve as an example to all lawyers.”

Williams said he would discuss how students can individually impact diversity in the legal field, rather than what can be done to the profession as a whole.

“Many people are used to asking how law can move or enhance diversity,” he said. “My plan is to take a detour and talk more about personal responsibility.”

Williams said he wonders whether there is a different model than the usual lectures, programs and other more formal methods to achieve equal opportunity in the legal profession. “When you rely on a large community or group to change things for you, and it doesn’t work, you have to start looking at what you can do individually,” he said.

Because it is difficult to change organizations, Williams said he has redirected his efforts toward the individual. “I’ve given a lot of talks on diversity and how it can benefit schools, but the numbers haven’t shown much improvement,” he said.

So, Williams said he plans to talk to students about making themselves sufficiently sought after, more mobile and proficient in a rapidly changing field.

In addition to his trial work, Williams is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and a past president of the National Conference of Bar Presidents and the Maricopa County Bar Association. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Phoenix Police Foundation and the Valley Leadership Association.