On June 11, the ABA Board of Governors approved changes to the association’s CLE policy intended to encourage greater diversity of CLE panelists. The rule enhancements were written by the Diversity and Inclusion 360 Commission with an eye on better meeting the aspirations of the ABA’s Goal III by having faculty in CLE programs include members of diverse groups.
Under the rules, which take effect March 1, 2017, a CLE program that has three or more panel participants (including the moderator) will need to have at least one member from a diverse group. Programs with five to eight panel participants will need to include two people from a diverse group; programs with nine or more participants will need three people from a diverse group. According to these new rules: “The ABA will not sponsor, co-sponsor, or seek CLE accreditation for any program failing to comply with this policy,” although it will be possible to apply for an exception to the rule. Past CLE programs will not be assessed retroactively and the rules will only apply to programs made after March 1.
In a letter to entity leaders on June 15, 2016, ABA President Paulette Brown emphasized the need for the rules and observed that most entities will not be impacted by the policy. It’s necessary for ABA entities to “promote full and equal participation” in the association, the profession and the justice system, Brown wrote. “As leaders in the legal profession, we know we cannot be successful and our Association cannot grow if we are not inclusive of all people.”
Before the rules were passed, members of the Council of the Senior Lawyers Division expressed concerns about the rules. In a memo sent to the Board of Governors, the SLD requested more time to study the changes. Citing the Senior Lawyers Division as a “strong and adamant supporter of the Goal III objectives,” the SLD Council raised three main concerns with the policy:
- Using specific numbers to establish diversity in a panel creates an “unnecessary focus on numbers rather than on quality and availability of speakers.”
- Establishing an “enforcement bureaucracy” will make it harder for volunteer ABA members to put CLE programs together.
- There is uncertainty whether aspirational efforts of ABA entities to promote diversity have been so unsuccessful that the new policy is needed.
Text of the proposal
The CLE proposal, submitted by the Diversity and Inclusion 360 Commission on June 10, 2016, reads:
The ABA expects all CLE programs sponsored or co-sponsored by the ABA to meet the aspirations of Goal III by having the faculty include members of diverse groups as defined by Goal III (race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability). This policy applies to individual CLE programs whose faculty consists of three or more panel participants, including the moderator. Individual programs with faculty of three or four panel participants, including the moderator, will require at least 1 diverse member; individual programs with faculty of five to eight panel participants, including the moderator, will require at least 2 diverse members; and individual programs with faculty of nine or more panel participants, including the moderator, will require at least 3 diverse members. The ABA will not sponsor, co-sponsor, or seek CLE accreditation for any program failing to comply with this policy unless an exception or appeal is granted. The ABA implementation date for the new Diversity & Inclusion CLE Policy shall be March 1, 2017.
A subcommittee of SCOCLE will be created which will include representatives from SOC. If for some rare or extraordinary reason a panel does not comply and not be granted an exception for one time only on behalf of that panel the entity can opt to pay a fine of $2500 to the diversity center rather than lose CLE credit for that panel. This exception can only be granted one time.