There’s a cultural shift afoot within the McHenry County Bar Association.
For the first time in the organization’s 100-year history, a minority has been selected as president of the professional organization for attorneys, judges and paralegals.
Carlos Arévalo, a partner and municipal attorney at Crystal Lake-based Zukowski, Rogers, Flood & McArdle, unanimously was selected to lead the 400-person bar. He took over July 1.
For Arévalo, the appointment signifies a change in the landscape of a profession that for years has been defined by two words: white and male.
“I think we’re ready to have somebody like me lead the bar,” he said.
Arévalo immigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador when he was 14 years old to meet his mother who already had been here a few years. She fled her native country where she worked as an office assistant, to New York City where her jobs were limited to city’s textile factories.
The Rhode Island public schools in which Arévalo was educated were a world of difference from the parochial school he attended in El Salvador. He started high school with a limited language proficiency, and had parents at home who didn’t speak English.
His family was unable to afford to send him to college, so Arévalo earned a free-ride scholarship, becoming the first in his family to attend college in the U.S.
He followed his political science undergraduate degree from Boston College with law school at Northeastern University, also in Boston. He moved to the area in 1999, and joined the law firm in 2000.
With an accent and Hispanic name, finding first an internship then a job proved to be a hurdle he was able to overcome – the sought-after jobs often went to the white Ivy Leaguers, he said.
“I had to work hard. There was a little more effort,” Arévalo said. “I had to show I was capable.”
While Arévalo’s appointment may be symbolic of a diversifying legal system, the profession is still marked by a disparity between white and minority attorneys – certainly not reflective of the actual diversity of the U.S. population.
According to the American Bar Association, in 2010, 3.7 percent of the Bar’s 1.2 million attorneys were Hispanic. The ABA’s demographics were based on 2010 census numbers.
Locally, the McHenry County Bar Association is below the national average with about 2 percent Latinos.
Even still, it appears McHenry County may be taking a cue from other gains of minorities in the legal profession. A Hispanic woman – Sonia Sotomayor – now sits on the U.S. Supreme Court, and Ruben Castillo, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court in Chicago was the first Latino federal Judge in Illinois, are just a few examples.
When discussing what his appointment means for the local Bar Association, Arévalo had this to say: “We are all benefited by the differences we bring to the table.”