Dean Emeritus Leo Romero to Receive 2014 American Bar Association Award

December 16, 2014

Professor Alex Ritchie

Leo M. Romero, Professor Emeritus and former Dean, will receive the 2014 Spirit of Excellence Award from the American Bar Association. The award celebrates the accomplishments of lawyers who promote a more racially and ethnically diverse legal profession. The award will be presented on Saturday, February 8, 2014 in Chicago.

"I am thrilled to receive this prestigious award from the ABA," says Romero. "If I have been successful in helping others, I feel my work has been a tribute to those who helped me."

Roberta Cooper Ramo, President of The American Law Institute, is former President of both the American Bar Association and the UNM Board of Regents. "Anyone who knows Leo Romero, or who has watched his great contributions to our state in his leadership of the Law School can attest that his demeanor, his dedication and his great intelligence not only personify excellence, it resonates in every way he approaches a problem," says Ramo. "His contributions to raising the awareness and level of quality of Indian Law at UNM impacted not only legal education, but the development of Indian Law throughout the entire Country. I am very proud to claim such an icon of excellence, sensitivity and civility as a New Mexican."

Contributing to Racial and Ethnic Diversity

Romero’s impact on racial and ethnic diversity spans decades and includes representing clients, research and writing with national implications, and establishing a very successful Indian Law program at the UNM School of Law.

When Romero was hired at the UNM Law School in 1972, there were very few women and minority students. He teamed up with others who were concerned that the only law school in New Mexico, a state with a 45% Hispanic population, had so few minority students.

Romero played a role in revising the School’s admissions policy so that LSAT scores would not be the only factor determining admission. He also encouraged the Law School to participate in CLEO (Council on Legal Education Opportunity) and to admit CLEO students who demonstrated their aptitude for legal study. The result of the change in the Law School’s admissions policy and the use of CLEO as a predictor of academic success was immediate. The percentage of Hispanic students in the student body increased to about 30%, Native American to about 9%, and other minority students to about 5%.

Romero also helped change the bar exam procedure that resulted in a fairer exam and better bar results for minority students. In connection with that effort, he represented several Hispanic graduates before the Supreme Court of New Mexico and before the Board of Bar Examiners.

Romero served on the first New Mexico State Bar Task Force on Minorities in the Profession. Its report resulted in an increase in the number of minority lawyers in large law firms and an increase in leadership positions in the State Bar.

As Dean, Romero focused on expanding the Indian Law Program at the UNM School of Law. Two Indian law professors were hired to teach in the area of Indian Law, an Indian Law Clinic was started, and a Certificate in Indian Law was established as part of the curriculum.

Good People / Buena Gente

Mary T. Torres,’92, Secretary-Elect of the ABA Board of Governors and immediate past Chair of the ABA Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity, is a former student of Romero’s and worked closely with him while she was in law school both on UNM’s Mock Trial Team, and while she was President of the Student Bar Association. She considers him to be one of her core mentors. "He is everything that one hopes to embody as a lawyer: kind, smart, professional, hardworking, and honest as the day is long," says Torres. "And as my Dad used to say, Leo is ‘good people’. Leo’s commitment to diversity and his personal involvement in reaching out to diverse students who would become diverse attorneys inspired me to become involved in diversity efforts. I couldn’t be more proud or humbled to count Leo as a true friend and mentor. I plan to be in Chicago in February when Leo receives his award, and rest assured, I’ll be one of the proudest supporters in the audience."

Read the press release.