A Brief History
The Puerto Rican Bar Association, Inc. (PRBA) was founded in 1957 by a group of Puerto Rican and Latino attorneys who began gathering socially to offer one another both personal and professional support in an era when it was difficult for attorneys of color to be accepted as members in established bar associations.
The idea of a bar association that would meet the needs of Latino attorneys existed many years prior to 1957. As early as 1934, a few practitioners servicing the Puerto Rican community began to organize and subsequently formed what was to be the earliest predecessor of today’s PRBA called the Pan-American Lawyers’ Association.
Subsequently, in the mid 1940’s, a new organization called the Spanish-American Bar Association was organized which, in 1957, became the present day PRBA. The original incorporators of the PRBA were Rafael Descartes, Francisco Rodriguez Jr., Roberto Ortiz, Sixto Laureano, Demostenes Santiago Roque and Oscar Gonzalez Suarez. Among the members of the committee of the original bylaws were Felipe N. Torres, chairmen, who was the first Puerto Rican Family Court Judge and who previously had served as the first Puerto Rican Assemblyman from the Bronx; Oscar Garcia Rivera, the first Puerto Rican Assemblymen from New York City and the first President of the Puerto Rican Bar Association; Emilio Nunez, who later served as Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department; and Jose Quinones, Roberto Lebron, Luis Garcia and Manuel Nelson Zapata, all practicing attorneys.
The Scholarship Fund
In 1978, the PRBA founded the Puerto Rican Bar Association Scholarship Fund, Inc. as a separate corporate entity registered under New York State Not-For-Profit Corporation Law by the then PRBA President, the late Donald Grajales, a distinguished New York State Court of Claims Judge
The New Millennium
Since its early beginning, the PRBA has grown to be one of the nation’s largest, oldest and most important Latino bar associations.
In defining its role in the new century, the PRBA believes that it is now prepared to take a more proactive approach toward its involvement in community affairs and in particular, its involvement in not only reacting to law and policy that impacts the Latino community but in helping to shape it. In furtherance of this goal, the PRBA has initiated a number of initiatives through the formation of various committees and is proud of their accomplishments.
In recent years, the PRBA has developed a presence in the nation’s capital through the work of its Legislative Committee on various issues, including:
- Opposing “English Only” through written policy statements to the United States Judiciary Committee
- Testifying before Congress on the right of Puerto Rico’s self-determination
- Advocating on behalf of federal judicial candidates before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and various U.S. Senators
- Submitting amicus briefs to the United States Supreme Court. Given the extent of the PRBA’s active involvement in issues of national concern, in October 1999, the process of establishing a Washington D.C. Chapter of the PRBA was initiated by the PRBA, together with a group of 25 lawyers practicing in the Washington, D.C. area.
- The Formation of a Washington D.C. Chapter will ensure the PRBA’s commitment toward continued and greater advocacy on behalf of important issues that impact not only the Latino community but the nation as a whole. In addition to its legislative agenda, the PRBA continues to be committed to the issues that are important to its members, including professional development and community service
An important part of the PRBA’s growth has been largely due to the growing influence and contribution of women to the PRBA and the legal profession. Women now constitute at least one-half of the members of the PRBA and have assumed an important leadership role within the PRBA over the years, including the role of president. In fact, the Women’s Committee has grown into one of the most active committees of the PRBA through its advocacy regarding legislative and policy issues affecting Latinos and the development of numerous workshops focusing on issues that impact women in the legal profession.
Another important committee of the PRBA dedicated to professional development is the Committee to Encourage Judicial Excellence. Through this committee, the PRBA advocates for diversity in the judiciary and mentors talented attorneys who are interested in judicial service. This committee also makes recommendations regarding the PRBA’s “Excellence in the Judiciary Award” which was last bestowed upon the Honorable Jose A. Cabranes, Judge of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In addition to professional development, the PRBA is dedicated toward promoting community service.
“We are all well aware of the many responsibilities and challenges these positions entail and we are eager to get to work. In the end, we may not achieve everything we wish to accomplish, but, expect that with every PRBA member’s help, we will write another chapter in the long tradition of excellence of the PRBA.”
— This, we believe is our responsibility, and right, as Puerto Rican lawyers and members of the Puerto Rican Bar Association.