Knocking loud
 for opportunity

JUDICIOUS EXPERIENCE: Dorca M. Paulino, left, diversity director at the R.I. judiciary, talks with her recent recruit, University of Rhode Island graduate Sharon Santiago. / PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO
JUDICIOUS EXPERIENCE: Dorca M. Paulino, left, diversity director at the R.I. judiciary, talks with her recent recruit, University of Rhode Island graduate Sharon Santiago. / PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO

GOVERNMENT RI. judiciary

Young people from backgrounds typically underrepresented in judicial and law careers are getting an early introduction to the possibilities of work in those fields, thanks to the work of Dorca M. Paulino, R.I. judiciary diversity director.

Paulino was hired last year, under the direction of Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Suttell. She was tasked with reaching out to colleges, high schools, groups and organizations to explain how the judicial system works and the job opportunities available within it.

Paulino’s mission also includes proactively recruiting diverse candidates to work in the system.

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One such candidate was Sharon Santiago, a recent University of Rhode Island graduate, working at the court as a general-operations assistant. Santiago began working at the office as an intern in 2017 through the R.I. State Government Internship program. When a full-time position opened, Paulino recommended Santiago on the merits of her performance.

“I’m learning so much about the judiciary,” said Santiago. “I’m opening myself up to different experiences every day.”

She says the program has helped her recognize her leadership ability and passion for being an advocate for others, especially with issues affecting children.

Paulino said the internship program is one of many outreach efforts the judiciary makes to seek diverse candidates.

The judicial system is responsible for providing access to justice, Paulino said. Those entrusted with the process must leave their personal experiences and biases at the door and rely solely on the fair application of the law, she said. Paulino noted diversity in the workplace is essential to foster mutual respect among employees and that developing a diverse workforce will allow them to continue promoting public trust in the judicial process and to communicate and interact with people in ways that they can relate.

“In a nutshell, we want our workforce to reflect the Rhode Island population,” Paulino said. So, it has implemented early-intervention programs to encourage members of underrepresented groups to attend college, to pursue law school and to practice in Rhode Island after graduating.

The judiciary has its work cut out for it, but it’s reporting progress.

Minority workers make up 13.1 percent of the nation’s attorneys, judges and other judicial workers, according to the U.S. Census. Only 28 percent of the lawyers in Rhode Island are women, compared with 35 percent nationwide, according to the American Bar Association.

To increase the diversity numbers in the judicial system, Paulino spends a lot of time on the road, speaking to college students, diversity groups and organizations, hoping to inspire candidates who want to make a career in the judiciary.

The judiciary is also partnering with local colleges and service organizations, using its law court recruiting program, and the Judiciary Employment Education Program, which works with high school students to encourage them toward law careers.

In January, as part of the education employment program, the judiciary invited students from the Academy for Career Exploration to spend the day at the Licht Judicial Complex learning about career opportunities in the judiciary.

This year, the judiciary is noticing an increase in the number of diverse candidates applying to work for the state’s court system. New hires in fiscal 2017 were 56 percent female, 44 percent male and 22 percent from minority groups. In the judiciary, 37 percent of judicial officers are female. According to the American Community Survey, only 28 percent of lawyers statewide are female.

Superior Court Administrator Marisa Brown says the judiciary needed someone to tell young people about it and encourage them to take advantage of the opportunities.

“Dorca was a perfect choice,” Brown said. “She has been proactive and doing the outreach. Dorca is doing a bang-up job.”

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