15:17 PM

Zhang inaugural recipient of new Diversity Champion Award

Judge Jerri Zhang has been named the inaugural recipient of The Missouri Bar Diversity Champion Award. This award recognizes a Missouri lawyer who demonstrates a true commitment to inclusion and achieves gains toward increasing the retention, advancement, and promotion of lawyers of color. She will be recognized Sept. 13, 2023, during the Missouri Bar Foundation and Public Service Awards Luncheon at the Annual Meeting of The Missouri Bar in Kansas City.   

Zhang is a circuit judge in the 16th Judicial Circuit of Jackson County. She previously served for five years as a probate court commissioner. Prior to her appointment to the bench, Zhang was an attorney with the Jackson County Counselor's Office, legal counsel for the Jackson County Public Administrator, and legal counsel for the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission. She also served as coordinator of diversity programs and academic success at the University of Missouri School of Law.   

Zhang received her J.D. from the University of Missouri School of Law and her Bachelor of Journalism Degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia.   

“I am so humbled and honored to receive the inaugural Diversity Champion Award,” Zhang said.  “Diversity, equity, and inclusion have always been passions of mine, and I feel so privileged to have been nominated and selected for my work. We have accomplished a lot in our profession, and I intend to continue my work in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space.” 

The award was created to encourage lawyers, legal employers, and broader communities to be inspired by the example set by awardees. It was established by the Board of Governors at its 2022 Annual Meeting following a recommendation of the Special Committee on Lawyers of Color.      

The award is presented annually to an individual who has, within the last 12 months, developed, adopted, or implemented meaningful initiatives or programs designed to increase inclusion within the legal profession in Missouri or have otherwise made significant contributions valuing diversity, equity, and inclusion for lawyers of color which helps in:   

  • Increasing access, success, and equity for lawyers of color;   
  • improving and enhancing organizational climate to make it more conducive to the hiring, retention, and advancement of lawyers of color;   
  • increasing cultural consciousness in the professional development of lawyers of color; and  
  • demonstrating an overall commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion for lawyers of color.  

Members of the 2023 Diversity Champion Award Selection Committee noted several contributions Zhang has made in these areas. The committee found that throughout her career, Zhang has demonstrated her dedication to advancing lawyers of color by participating in and leading committees, activities, and programs that have led to significant changes that directly impact the inclusion, advancement, and retention of lawyers of color, including co-chairing the Civil Subcommittee of the Supreme Court of Missouri’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness, chairing the Diversity Committee of The Missouri Bar, providing leadership for The Missouri Bar Diversity Summit, and assisting with the successful effort to create diversity seats on the Young Lawyers’ Section Council.  

The committee also noted Zhang has shown a commitment to developing a pipeline of students of color entering the legal profession. She serves as chair of the bar’s pilot Diversity Judicial Internship Program, where students of color intern with judges in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Jefferson City. She has also been involved with the Shook Scholars Institute working with law students across the country and has a proven history of mentoring and guiding young lawyers in their careers. 

“Follow your passions and seek mentors wherever you go,” Zhang added. “I could not have accomplished any of what I am being recognized for without the support of mentors who paved the path before me and colleagues who shared the same vision.” 

Click here to learn more about annual awards presented by The Missouri Bar, the Missouri Bar Foundation, and other entities. Read about other 2023 award winners here.