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Student Lawyer

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

3 Key Takeaways from the 2023 ABA Virtual Equity Summit

Yousef Ziyadi


  • The 2023 American Bar Association Equity Summit revealed gaps in public awareness of rights, particularly in areas like maternity leave, showcasing the need for broader education.
  • The summit highlighted a growing commitment to equity within the legal field, with practitioners and students actively promoting inclusivity. Disability justice gained prominence, addressing the often-overlooked area of DEI.
  • Sessions emphasized the importance of challenging biases and understanding the struggles faced by those with disabilities. Advocacy suggestions ranged from direct volunteering to self-education through articles and community movements, emphasizing the role of legal professionals in protecting vulnerable populations.
3 Key Takeaways from the 2023 ABA Virtual Equity Summit

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I was surprised by many things I learned by attending the 2023 ABA Equity Summit in October, a two-day virtual event. Here are three that were new and interesting.

1. Many People Don’t Know Their Rights

While much progress has been made within courts and legislatures to create inclusive policies and enforce against discriminatory actions, there’s work to be done on educating the general public regarding their rights. Even as someone studying law, there were many rights that I wasn’t aware existed.

The area of maternity leave is just one area of the law I didn’t realize had broader protections than I knew. For example, I didn’t know there were funding avenues for new mothers without paid maternity leave from their employers.

In some states, this is provided directly by the government, and new states are beginning to join this relatively new trend. In states without government-funded paid maternity leave, employer-provided disability insurance can be used to pay up to approximately 70 percent of the employee’s regular salary during maternity leave.

On a broader level, the understandable lack of knowledge many of us have about our rights is even more concerning in this area, given the vulnerability of employees and the financial and physical difficulties of becoming a new parent.

2. Commitment to Equity Is Growing

I was very pleased to see the high level of excitement everyone had in promoting equity for everyone, especially in the legal field. Given law’s traditional nature and relatively slow evolution, the rising number of practitioners and students who are enthusiastic about doing their part and helping others learn more about the importance of equity and inclusivity and ways they can practice it every day is a wonderful sign that, as a field, we are on the right track.

3. Disabilities Law Is Gaining Importance

I was heartened by the increasing awareness of disability justice. People with disabilities are often left behind because it’s a particular area of DEI that’s not viewed as a priority. Part of the reason for that, in my experience, is because there’s heavy lifting involved in ensuring accessibility for those with disabilities.

It inspired me to see a whole session dedicated to disabilities and how we can all do our part to educate ourselves on this imperative area of DEI advocacy. Ways we can educate ourselves and position ourselves as strong advocates for the vulnerable are all grounded in the idea of challenging our own perspectives and biases.

When we take a moment to recognize that our own insular experiences inform our particular worldview, we’re able to empathize more with others and recognize the importance of learning about their own experiences and challenges. While the best way to do that is, of course, directly volunteering with disability organizations to be able to develop personal relationships with others, those of us who don’t have time can even educate ourselves by reading articles, joining advocacy movements within our own communities (petitions and outreach programs), and learning more about the way the law has viewed disability rights, both in good and bad ways.

By learning about the ways our community members with disabilities have been viewed and treated (starting, for example, with the 1927 US Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell), we can begin to understand the importance of using our legal skills to protect the most vulnerable.