Leo Romero, professor emeritus and former dean of the University of New Mexico School of Law, is to be honored by the American Bar Association with the 2014 Spirit of Excellence Award, which celebrates accomplishments of lawyers who promote a more racially and ethnically diverse legal profession. He will receive the award Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 in Chicago, Ill.

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

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,” Ramo said. “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, very few women and minority students were part of the school. He teamed up with others who were concerned that the only law school in New Mexico, a state with a 45 percent 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 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 percent, Native American to about nine percent, and other minority students to about five percent.

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.

At the national level, Romero served as a member of the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, was vice president of the Council for two years, and was director of three CLEO Pre-Law Institutes.  He served on the Minority Affairs Committee of the Law School Admission Council for nine years and was later chair of the LSAC Board of Trustees. 

A graduate of Oberlin College, Romero received his law degree from Washington University at St. Louis, and earned a master's in law from Georgetown University Law Center (E. Barrett Prettyman Fellow).