and Task Force members to learn about
their award-winning leadership institute.
Watching this tangible and reputable program, she says a “lightbulb just went off”
as “it was a natural fit.” In a collaborative
effort, the founders of the Washington
Leadership Institute shared the nuts and
bolts of their program—from mission and
vision to curriculum and funding sources.
Why recreate the wheel when you can just
build on it?
Mari and the Task Force members
added their own Arizona flair by leveraging their respective organizations and
accessing the already available wealth of
knowledge. They rolled out the application, selection process, and BLI curriculum to reach a wide cross-section of the
Arizona legal community and hoped to
motivate change from within the profession.
“From there,” she says, “it just snow-
In 2008, the State Bar recognized Mari’s
drive and determination to design and im-
plement the BLI vision with its President’s
As a Director and Assistant General Counsel for Microchip, Mari knows the importance of diversity and inclusion because it
enables people at all levels of the organization to interact, communicate effectively,
collaborate, identify solutions from different
perspectives, and adapt to the client base. In
addition, she continues to support the BLI
legacy by facilitating and participating in an
annual BLI panel discussion on the work
of in-house counsel. Her commitment to
diversity and inclusion is also evidenced by
her participation as a court-appointed special advocate for foster children.
Mari is proud that the BLI remains a
practical, well-run, established program that
truly provides a benefit to its participants,
the community, and the legal profession
in Arizona. She is also “confident that BLI
participants have honored their commitment to engage with the State Bar and/or
sister bar committees following their participation in the program. As a result, participation of diverse lawyers has increased in the
KRISTI WHITAKER is an attorney in the Office of
the Federal Public Defender in Phoenix.
BY KRISTI WHITAKER
Mari Valenzuela’s energy is contagious, and when she took on the issue of
diversity and inclusion for Arizona’s legal
community, it was no different. A native Arizonan from the border town of Nogales,
she settled in Phoenix after graduating from
the University of Arizona and the University
of California, Berkeley School of Law. She
quickly became involved with the State Bar
of Arizona and in November 2006, she
chaired the Committee of the Diversity Task
Force that rolled out the recommendation
to the Board of Governors to establish the
Bar Leadership Institute.
Mari’s participation with the BLI grew
out of her affiliation with the State Bar’s
Committee on Minorities and Women in the
Law. This committee wanted to focus more
attention on increasing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. To spearhead
the initiative, Mari worked together with
members from law firms, government agencies, law schools, non-profit organizations,
and corporations that made up the Diversity
Task Force. Each member came with his or
her own perspective to share.
To gather ideas, Mari flew to Washington State with other State Bar Committee
Anyone surprised at the importance that Helen Perry Grimwood placed
on diversity when she took the reins as President of the State Bar of Arizona in 2005
missed the tell-tale signs she proudly displayed leading up to her time as only the fifth
female State Bar President since its inception
in 1933. Helen had already founded the All
Saints’ Episcopal Church Sudanese Ministry,
worked on diversity issues with the Arizona
Women Lawyers Association as both the
Statewide President and Maricopa County
Chapter President. Confirming her passion
for the subject, Helen’s President’s Message
in September 2005 begins with “As many of
you know, issues of diversity are near and
dear to my heart.” The writing was clearly
on the wall.
But the president of any organization discovers that setting the agenda for your term
in office always must include a blank space
for the inevitable unthinkable interruption.
BY GAETANO “GUY” TESTINI
BLI Pioneer Inclusive Advocate