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March/April 2024

SEER Special Committee for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB)–its past and present

Monty Cooper


  • SEER has actively promoted diversity, equity, and inclusion goals both before and after 2020.
  • SEER currently has a Special Committee devoted to ensuring the goals of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging throughout the Section.
  • SEER’s recent book on ESG also highlights DEI efforts among a variety of corporate entities. 
SEER Special Committee for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB)–its past and present
sarote pruksachat via Getty Images

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In 2020, the ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (SEER) Council created the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force, later naming it the Special Committee for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB). The Special Committee for DEIB is SEER’s effort to promote a diverse and inclusive community within the Section and broader environmental bar. Given the importance of this work, Trends wanted to spotlight the Special Committee’s past efforts and current activitiesand encourage readers to participate in the Special Committee’s work in the future.

Prior to 2020, SEER sponsored several efforts to promote diversity, most notably through its Membership Diversity Enhancement Program (MDEP), an initiative that annually identifies leaders from diverse backgrounds and experiences. It includes a variety of self-identified diverse individuals, including those who come from diverse backgrounds (including racially diverse, LGBTQ+, and younger lawyers), diverse practice settings (including government, nonprofit, academia, and solo practice), and those who are new to the practice of law. SEER provides them with benefits (e.g., discounted ABA and SEER membership dues for a year) to encourage their participation in the Section. MDEP members are provided opportunities to participate in meetings with SEER leadership to provide detailed information about various potential roles in the Section for members. For example, MDEP members will hear from the SEER Publications officer about opportunities to write articles for a variety of publications within the Section. This program continues through today.

In 2020, SEER paid renewed attention to diversity issues as the nation grappled with the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and protests. In response, SEER held a webinar titled, “Addressing Inequality and Promoting Opportunity,” to discuss ways to encourage and support diversity efforts in the workplace and Section. The webinar was well attended, with attendees discussing a variety of ideas, including best practices for identifying diverse talent within the Section and working with outside organizations to develop pipeline initiatives to increase diversity within the environmental bar.

Based on the interest in and success of the webinar, SEER’s Council, led by former SEER chair Howard Kenison, created the DEI Task Force (the Task Force). Council invited several Section members to participate, most notably Brenda Mallory (now chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality) and Ignacia Moreno (former assistant attorney general, Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division). This article’s author was asked to chair the Task Force.

The Task Force’s first order of business was drafting a mission statement. In it, the Task Force stated its purpose was “to enhance and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within the Section and within the [environmental] bar overall.” To enhance and promote diversity, the Task Force planned, among other things, to examine the makeup of SEER’s committee leaders, publications, and programs; work with SEER’s existing diversity-focused member initiatives (e.g., MDEP) to identify diverse talent and connect those leaders with speaking, writing, and leadership opportunities; develop internal SEER programming focused on promoting workplace diversity; and collaborate with outside organizations to develop programs aimed to recruit, retain, and promote diverse attorneys.

The Task Force began its work in earnest. Members worked with SEER’s staff to determine the makeup of SEER’s committee leadership (e.g., chairs and vice-chairs) and then reached out to MDEP’s leaders to discuss the best way to connect committee leaders with MDEP members for opportunities. As a result, MDEP’s leadership invited committee chairs and vice-chairs to attend MDEP’s monthly meetings to provide information about their committees and invite MDEP members to join and participate in the committees. The Task Force also helped to organize a series of “DEI Conversations,” led by former SEER chair Michelle Diffenderfer, that allowed members to discuss best practices for creating a welcoming workplace environment for attorneys from diverse cultural backgrounds. The Task Force worked with outside organizations like Green 2.0, an environmental diversity-advocacy group, to host panels for college and law students of color to encourage them to take an interest in environmental law. Also, Task Force members reached out to outside affinity groups like the National LGBTQ+ Bar Association in support of its Lavender Law Conference, which encourages LGBTQ+ young attorneys to consider an environmental or energy-related law career.

The Task Force also finalized and published on its website a diversity action plan that defines key terms (e.g., diversity and inclusion) and identifies objectives (e.g., monitoring and increasing diversity among SEER membership and leadership) to guide future SEER diversity activities.

Because of the Task Force’s efforts, the Council elevated its status to that of a standing special committee. Later, the Council approved adding “Belonging” to the Special Committee’s title. By adding “Belonging,” SEER sought to convey that all attorneys, regardless of their backgrounds or experiences, were welcome to participate in the Special Committee’s activities. This emphasis on “Belonging” eventually led to action, with the Special Committee helping to organize a May 2023 ABA-wide webinar titled, “Fireside Chat with Past, Present, and Future ABA Presidents: Discussing How the Legal Profession and the ABA Can Be Effective Allies for Diversity.” The webinar allowed these ABA leaders to discuss the importance of and best practices for effective allyship.

Now going into its fourth year, the Special Committee continues its mission to enhance and promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging within SEER and the environmental bar. In recent years, the Special Committee has worked with the Council to examine how it identifies and promotes leaders within SEER to ensure that diverse members are being considered for leadership roles. In addition, the Special Committee has been working on several other initiatives, including planning DEIB-focused CLEs and events at ABA-SEER Spring and Fall Conferences (including this past 2023 SEER Fall Conference where the committee helped to organize an ethics CLE regarding DEIB); expanding its advocacy to support disabled lawyers in efforts to improve the accessibility of ABA’s website for these members; and continuing its work with MDEP to identify leadership and training opportunities for MDEP members within SEER.

The Special Committee for DEIB continues its work today. It has a separate page describing its general work on the SEER Resources page. It meets monthly (every second Friday) and is led by Lauren Bachtel, senior counsel with Linklaters LLP, and Rachel James, associate attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. If you’re interested in participating in the Special Committee’s work, please contact them. The Special Committee welcomes your energy and ideas.

We note that Chapter 10 in the newly released SEER book, Environmental, Social, Governance: The Professional’s Guide to the Law and Practice of ESG, contains a detailed discussion of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts throughout the profession and corporate entities in America.