In 2008, the American Bar Association House of Delegates adopted Goal III: Eliminate Bias and Enhance Diversity to “promote full and equal participation in the association, our profession, and the justice system by all persons” and “eliminate bias in the legal profession and the Justice System.” Since then the ABA has engaged in targeted programs to promote diversity in its own ranks and the legal profession as a whole.
One of those efforts was to adopt a Diversity & Inclusion CLE Policy that required ABA sponsored CLE to include diverse faculty on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. If a panel did not meet these goals, it could be granted a one-time exception with a $2500 fee paid to the diversity center.
In 2021, the Florida Supreme Court adopted a rule banning diversity quotas in Florida continuing legal education courses after the Florida Bar Business Law Section issued its own policy requiring diverse faculty. The Florida Supreme Court said that the policy discriminates against people based on their membership in a specific group.
On April 5, 2022, the ABA adopted a new Diversity Equity and Inclusion CLE Policy which promotes the same goal of ensuring diversity on CLE panels, without the mandates and fine. The Diversity and Inclusion Center would monitor ABA CLE programs to ensure the diversity goals are being met and “engage and assist” programs that fall short.
Florida is currently at the epicenter of efforts to push back on what is being called “woke” ideology in organizations like corporations, educational institutions, and professional associations. Fox News recently devoted a whole article to the term “woke” noting that the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” The article goes on to state that “...many people now interpret woke to be a way to describe people who would rather silence their critics than listen to them.”
The conflict between the ABA and Florida Supreme Court suggests that there are some legal limitations to using quotas and fines as the primary means to advance “social justice” objectives. Another ABA program, the Collaborative Bar Leadership Academy (CBLA) is now moving into its eighth year and has had some success in increasing diversity in leadership roles in the legal profession. The CBLA is a joint initiative between the ABA, Hispanic National Bar Association, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, National Bar Association, National LGBT Bar Association, National Native American Bar Association, and the South Asian Bar Association of North America that is designed to “strengthen the pipeline of diverse bar association leaders by providing leadership training and professional development programs.” The quiet success of the CBLA program supports the notion that education and enrichment, as opposed to quotas, are better suited means to promoting diversity and opportunity in the legal profession.
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