Law students face mandatory bias training under proposed ABA rule

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Signage is seen outside of the American Bar Association (ABA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • The new rule, requiring at least two bias trainings at U.S. law schools, could be in place by the fall
  • The proposed mandate has generated some opposition within the legal academy

(Reuters) - Law schools would have to train students in bias, racism and crosscultural competency under a proposal before the American Bar Association’s policymaking body this month.

The ABA’s House of Delegates on Feb. 14 will consider a series of changes to its law school accreditation rules, including a new requirement that schools provide bias training at least twice during a student’s time on campus — once at the start of their studies and at least once more before they graduate.

In July 2020, 150 law deans signed a letter urging the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar to consider such a requirement as part of a wider anti-racism movement in legal education.

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“We are in a unique moment in our history to confront racism that is deeply embedded in our institutions, including in the legal profession,” the letter said.

The council in August approved the proposed new requirement, and it could be in place this fall if the House of Delegates signs off, said William Adams, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education.

But the proposal has garnered skepticism from some inside and outside the legal academy. The majority of public comments the council received warned that requiring bias training would interfere with curricula or convey a particular ideology. Some also said the proposal is too vague.

“It is more constructive to foster spaces that encourage the free exchange of ideas than to impose consensus through mandatory training and courses,” the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said in a comment it submitted.

A group of 10 Yale law professors wrote that requiring bias training is an "unwarranted intrusion" on the autonomy of law schools.

The rule does not mandate the addition of any specific courses. It says the requirement may be fulfilled during orientation, guest lectures, courses on racism and bias in the law, and other “educational experiences.” Students would have to complete both trainings before starting clinics or field placements.

Adams said Thursday that he has not heard of any planned opposition to the measure by House of Delegates members.

The organization is also slated to consider the addition of ethnicity, gender identity and military status to the accreditation standard prohibiting discrimination, as well as requirements that schools provide information about student well-being resources and student loan repayment.

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com