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DEI Center FAQs

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Frequently Asked Questions and Resources

As the largest voluntary professional association of lawyers in the world, the American Bar Association (ABA or Association) recognizes its duty to effectively represent the legal profession and serve the interests of justice. To fulfill this duty, the ABA has four Goals, one of which is to eliminate bias and enhance diversity. This is Goal III. To navigate the Association’s Goal III initiatives and resources, the Board of Governors Profession, Public Service and Diversity Committee has developed this guide of frequently asked questions and resources.

If you have other questions, please contact Selina Thomas, Managing Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Center at [email protected]

What is ABA Goal III?

In 1986, the ABA passed Goal IX, an association-wide commitment to promote full and equal participation in the profession by “minorities” and women.  Later “persons with disabilities” and “persons of differing sexual orientations and gender identities” were added.  The purpose was to better incorporate these historically unrepresented groups who have, due to discrimination and bias, faced barriers to full inclusion.

In 2008, the ABA restructured its Mission & Goals, and passed Goal III, one of only four goals, memorializes the ABA’s unwavering dedication to eliminate bias and enhance diversity in the Association, legal profession, and Justice System.  While the language of Goal III incorporates the purpose of Goal IX, its broader scope ensures that the ABA is on record as being a champion for all forms of diversity.

Each of the ABA’s more than 3,500 entities work to advance the objectives of Goal III. 

What is the ABA Center for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in the Profession?

The ABA Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Profession (Center) was created to promote collaboration, coordination, and communication to advance Goal III. It houses the nine principal entities (listed below) charged with advancing distinct but interrelated areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Association and legal profession.  For more view the Center for DEI’s High-Level Overview.

How does the ABA Define Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Racial Equity?

The ABA Member Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan defines these terms as follows:

  • Diversity often pertains to demographic numbers and ensuring historically marginalized populations are adequately represented.
  • Equity is an approach that ensures everyone has access to the same opportunities. Equity recognizes that advantages and barriers exist, and that, as a result, we all do not start from the same place. Equity begins by acknowledging that unequal starting place and continues to correct and address the imbalance. 
  • Inclusion encompasses individuals with different identities feeling and/or being valued, leveraged, and welcomed within a given setting.

The Center currently uses the following definitions:

  • Diversity includes all visible and nonvisible dimensions that make an individual who they are. The concept of diversity means understanding that everyone is unique and recognizing our individual differences.  These can be along various dimensions, such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, neurodiversity etc.
  • Equity means everyone getting what they need to thrive or succeed—access to opportunities, networks, resources, and supports—based on where they are and where they want to go.  Achieving equity for underrepresented demographic groups requires the removal of systemic barriers that impede their success.
  • Racial Equity is what is achieved if a person’s racial identity is no longer a predictor of how they will fare in society.  Achieving racial equity involves recognizing the impact of systemic racism in our many systems (criminal/civil justice, employment, education, housing, etc.) and developing strategies and initiatives that attack its root causes.
  • Inclusion is a dynamic state of operating in which diversity is leveraged to create a fair, healthy, and high performing organization or community that ensures equitable access to resources and opportunities for all.

To visualize the difference between diversity and inclusion many use the phrase attributed to Verna Myers “Diversity is being invited to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance.”  

Why is Diversity Important?

It strengthens the rule of law as the inclusion of people from diverse backgrounds leads to more trust in our structures of justice.

It increases respect for the legal profession as diverse communities can better identify and interact with a profession and legal systems that represent them.

It builds confidence within the legal community that diverse opinions, thoughts, and proposals are respected, which in turn encourages engagement and participation as people feel that their perspectives, beliefs, and perceptions are valued.

It makes good business sense:

  • A diverse workplace has been proven to be more innovative and profitable as lawyers from diverse backgrounds better reflect and can attract the diversity of citizens, clients, and customers from around the globe.
  • A diverse legal profession has demonstrated the ability to be more just and productive because diversity, both cognitive and cultural, often leads to better questions, analyses, solutions, and processes.

Which ABA Resources Contain Diversity Statistics for the Association and Legal Profession?

How Can Entities Gather Better Diversity Data on their Membership?

Entities can use or adapt the communication template below to engage their memberships on completing the demographic portion of their MyABA profiles. The Center’s Tell Us Who You Are! Complete Your MyABA Profile Webpage provides a guide on how members can access and edit their My ABA Profiles.


Dear <Insert Entity Name> Members,

Please help us better serve you and the <Insert Section, Division, Forum etc.> by taking just a few moments to complete your MyABA profile, most notably its Demographics Section.  The following webpage and online document provide helpful information and instructions on the straightforward process.

The <Insert Entity Name> is committed, per ABA Goal III, to eliminate bias and enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) throughout the Association and legal profession.  Providing this demographic information allows us and the larger ABA to better serve you by ensuring that our membership, leadership opportunities, publications, CLE and other programming etc. reflect the rich diversity of the communities we serve.  Diversity that enhances innovation and productivity, including critical member recruitment and retention.

Please know that providing this demographic information is voluntary.  Furthermore, individual demographic information is kept confidential, never shared publicly, only available to ABA staff, and maintained and protected within the ABA’s Association Management System.  Click to learn more about the ABA’s Privacy Policy.

Thank you in advance for your leadership in helping the <Insert Entity Name> strengthen its Goal III commitment.  Please do not hesitate to contact <Insert Member or Staff Name and Contact Information> with any questions or concerns. 

Does the ABA Have a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan, and if so, Where Can it be Found?

The Member Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan, passed by the Board of Governors in August 2021 and available on the ABA DEI Resources Webpage, provides Goal III guidelines to help ensure full and equal participation in the Association by all members. 

What Key Steps Can ABA Entities Take to Advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

  1. Create and update their entity Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Plan in keeping with the objectives of the ABA Member DEI Plan, and appoint a Diversity Officer or other volunteer leader with the responsibility and ability to implement the plan.
  2. Design opportunities for members from diverse backgrounds to be included in all aspects of entity governance and initiatives, including leadership positions/appointments and participating as speakers and authors in their CLEs, programs, and publications. 
  3. Contact the Center for Diversity and Inclusion in the Profession to identify opportunities for collaboration and available DEI resources.   

Is There a Resource Bank for ABA Entities Seeking to Formulate or Revise Their DEI Policies?

The Center for Diversity and Inclusion in the Profession manages two webpages with several resources:

Does the ABA have a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Policy That Addresses Diversity on Panels?

In 2022, the ABA adopted the Diversity Equity and Inclusion CLE Policy. The ABA supports proactive measures to ensure that individuals from all backgrounds are afforded fair opportunities to participate in CLE programs. All CLE programs sponsored or co-sponsored by the ABA will advance the objectives of Goal III to eliminate bias and enhance diversity. Program organizers will invite and include prospective moderators and faculty members to create CLE panels that meet the objectives of Goal III. This includes, among others, moderators and faculty members from historically underrepresented communities e.g., racial and ethnic demographic groups/people of color, women, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ individuals.

How Does the ABA Ensure CLE Programs Comply with the Diversity Equity and Inclusion CLE Policy?

The Board of Governors approved creation of a CLE Implementation Committee (“Committee”) to ensure compliance with the Association’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion CLE Policy. The Committee will be comprised of five members, including representation from the Standing Committee on Continuing Legal Education (SCOCLE), the Center for Diversity and Inclusion in the Profession, the Section Officers Conference (SOC), and the Board Committee on Profession, Public Service and Diversity, plus one additional member, appointed by the President of the American Bar Association.

The Committee will monitor the Association’s CLE programming to ensure that Association entities conduct CLE programs in compliance with the policy. The Committee will have the authority to engage and assist any ABA entities found not to be in compliance and will report findings at regularly scheduled meetings of the ABA Board of Governors.

Does the ABA Require that Critical Race Theory be Taught in ABA-Accredited Law Schools?

No. Critical Race Theory (“CRT”) is an academic and legal framework that denotes that systemic racism is part of American society – from education and housing to employment and healthcare. CRT recognizes that racism is more than the result of individual bias and prejudice, and that it is embedded in laws, policies and institution that uphold and reproduce racial inequities.

Standard 303 (“Standard”) of the Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools, requires law schools to provide education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism at the start of their legal education and once again before graduation.  Law schools have the discretion to choose the type of instruction to meet the Standard.  To be clear, the Standard does not require, bar, or speak to the use of CRT instruction to meet the Standard.

The Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has a Council and Accreditation Committee that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) as the national accrediting agency for programs leading to the J.D.  In this function, the Council and the Section are independent of the ABA, as required by DOE regulations.  All state supreme courts recognize ABA-approved law schools as meeting the legal education requirements to qualify for the bar examination; forty-six states limit eligibility for bar admission to graduates of ABA-approved schools.

What Goal III Caucuses Exist and What are Their Respective Missions?

  • Racial & Ethnic Diversity Caucus, formerly the Minority Caucus, is an ad hoc entity that typically meets during the ABA Midyear and Annual Meetings. It was created to provide a forum for underrepresented racial or ethnic members of the House of Delegates (HOD) and those HOD members who have an interest in diversity issues to: consider and act upon HOD resolutions; communicate with and engage ABA leadership; network; support and advance diverse ABA members to leadership positions; and support ABA initiatives germane to the Caucus, such as scholarships. More information about the Caucus can be found on its webpage.  It is staffed by the Center and the Commission on Racial & Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. Any questions can be directed to Keevin Woods at [email protected]  
  • Women’s Caucus is an ad hoc entity, formed in 1986, to advance the interests of women in the Association.  The Caucus routinely meets during the ABA Midyear and Annual meetings and provides ABA members the opportunity to meet and network with colleagues; examine issues being addressed by the ABA that are of interest to and impact women; discuss issues of concern to women in the legal profession; and find paths to leadership and mentorship within the ABA.  During each Caucus, time is provided to announce ABA candidacies, meet with declared ABA candidates, and learn more about the current activities of the Commission on Women in the Profession. The Women’s Caucus is not associated with the House of Delegates.  It also predates and is staffed by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession.  Any questions can be directed to Melissa Wood at [email protected]
  • LGBTQ+ Caucus is an ad hoc entity, formed in 2015, to provide a forum for LGBTQ+ individuals and allies at ABA Annual and Midyear meetings, including members of the ABA House of Delegates and those ABA members who are interested in the ABA LGBTQ+ policy and advocacy work.  Participants meet and discuss important ABA resolutions and larger policy concerns as well as hear from and engage ABA leadership.  It is staffed by the Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.  Any questions can be directed to Skip Harsh at [email protected].


Key ABA DEI Resources

Implicit Bias Resources: 