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Panel to explore 'new-age diversity' in the legal field

"New-Age Diversity in the Legal Profession," part of the annual lecture series of the Black Law Students Association, takes place Tuesday, Sept. 30, at 5:30 p.m. in Tull Auditorium.

The panel discussion is the eighth event related to diversity at Emory Law sponsored by the law firm Smith, Gambrell & Russell. This event is co-sponsored with Emory's Black Law Students Association (BLSA), whose chapter is one of the oldest in the country and has won awards for its outreach programs, community service and leadership activities.

"The term 'new-age diversity' was deliberately chosen to broaden diversity to include gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and other factors," says BLSA President Melonie Wright. "Each panelist will address the need for recruiting and retaining diverse legal professionals as well as share stories of navigating the profession as a diverse individual."  

Lynell Cadray, Emory's associate vice provost for equity and inclusion, will moderate the program. According to Cadray, "It is not often that you can get such powerful speakers in a room at one time." The participants include:

Leah Ward Sears 80L

A partner with Schiff Hardin, Leah Ward Sears joined the firm following 17 years of distinguished service on the Georgia Supreme Court, including four years as chief justice. She was the first woman to serve on the state Supreme Court and the first woman to be elected statewide in Georgia. Sears serves on the Emory Board of Trustees.

Dax Lopez

In 2010 Lopez became the youngest judge on DeKalb County State Court and is currently the only Latino judge in Georgia. He serves as a member of the board of directors of the Georgia Hispanic Bar Association and as a member of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. He makes an impact in the Latin American community by presiding over the only Spanish-language docket for the DUI court and taking on Spanish-speaker cases from Cobb, Rockdale and Fulton counties. 

Robert James Jr.

District Attorney Robert James Jr. became the first African American to serve as an assistant district attorney in Rockdale County, Georgia. After assuming that position, he served as the DeKalb County Solicitor General, where his efforts include creating Project Perfect Attendance — a comprehensive truancy-intervention campaign. In 2008, James launched "Jobs Not Jail," providing first-time offenders an opportunity to complete their education, participate in training and receive job-placement assistance.

Maria Banjo
Assistant solicitor-general at the DeKalb County Solicitor-General's Office, Banjo prosecutes difficult cases involving DUI, theft, domestic violence and more. Prior to completing law school, Banjo served as a law clerk for both the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Chicago and the Georgia Justice Project in Atlanta.

"Emory Law's Diversity Speaker Series is just one example of how Emory continuously works to enhance students' education beyond the classroom," Cadray says.

Those interested in attending should register at

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