ABA revises diversity policy for lawyer education programs after setback

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

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  • Florida's high court in December ruled that diversity requirements in continuing legal education are discriminatory
  • Florida is accepting the ABA's CLE programming after it made changes to its diversity policy

(Reuters) - The American Bar Association has dropped a requirement that its continuing legal education programs with three or more presenters include at least one diverse speaker.

That change, adopted this week by the ABA’s Board of Governors, comes after the Florida Supreme Court in December ruled that lawyers in the state cannot earn CLE credits for programs offered by groups that require diversity among speakers. The ABA’s diversity requirement constituted a discriminatory quota system, the court said.

Under the ABA’s revised CLE policy, program organizers will “invite and include” program moderators and speakers from historically underrepresented groups. But it does not include any specific requirements as did the previous version, which the ABA adopted in 2017. A newly created subcommittee will monitor the ABA’s CLE programs to ensure they are advancing the organization’s Goal III, which is to eliminate bias and enhance diversity within the legal profession.

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The ABA's policy retreat marks at least the second recent setback to efforts by the organization to promote diversity in the legal profession.

Last month, a federal judge blocked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s adoption of an ABA-backed anti-harassment and discrimination professional rule for lawyers, ruling it threatens attorneys' free speech rights.

On the other hand, the ABA overcame opposition in February when its House of Delegates adopted a new requirement that law schools educate students about bias, racism and cross-cultural competency.

ABA president Reginald Turner said in announcing the new CLE policy this week that it will maintain the organization's commitment to diversity and inclusion. “Everyone benefits when participation in ABA programs, including our CLE panels, is maximized,” he said.

An ABA spokeswoman said Friday that its CLE programs were reinstated in Florida the day the new policy was approved.

Florida requires all licensed attorneys to complete 33 hours of CLE every three years and has more than 77,000 licensed lawyers, according to the ABA.

Read more:

Lawyer diversity effort gets cold shoulder from Florida Supreme Court

Judge blocks attorney anti-bias rule, finding free speech threat

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