February 27, 2020 Diversity & Inclusion

Diversity and Inclusion: An Overview of the ABA’s CLE Policy and the Section’s Plan and Committee

By Lany L. Villalobos, Dechert LLP, Philadelphia, PA

On November 6, 2019, the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Taxation (the Section) announced its new Diversity and Inclusion Scholarships to encourage diversity and inclusion at Section tax meetings.1 The first group of scholarship recipients were invited to attend the 2020 Midyear Meeting in Boca Raton, Florida: Arsalan Malik and Rene Morency. The Diversity and Inclusion Scholarships form a part of the Section’s broader diversity and inclusion efforts.

Section members often inquire about the origins of the ABA Diversity and Inclusion CLE Policy, the Diversity and Inclusion Plan of the Section and the role of the Diversity Committee of the Section. This article summarizes how the ABA Diversity and Inclusion CLE Policy came to be implemented by the Section, the Section’s adoption of its own Diversity and Inclusion Plan and the role of the Diversity Committee within the Section.

Goal III of the ABA

The mission of the ABA is to serve equally its members, the profession and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession.2 To fulfill these responsibilities, the ABA set forth the following four goals: (1) serving its members, known as Goal I; (2) improving the profession, known as Goal II; (3) eliminating bias and enhancing diversity, known as Goal III; and (4) advancing the rule of law, known as Goal IV.3

The ABA’s diversity and inclusion efforts are encompassed by Goal III, which was adopted by the ABA House of Delegates in 2008.4 Goal III of the ABA consists of two objectives: (1) promoting the full and equal participation in the ABA, the legal profession, and the justice system by all persons and (2) eliminating bias in the legal profession and the justice system.5

ABA Diversity and Inclusion CLE Policy

Members of the Section, and the ABA broadly, had a heightened awareness of diversity after the ABA implemented the Diversity and Inclusion CLE Policy (the D&I CLE Policy), effective as of March 1, 2017.6 The D&I CLE Policy provides that any ABA CLE program with three or more panelists (including the moderator) must have at least one member from a diverse group; a CLE program with five to eight panelists (including the moderator) must have at least two members from a diverse group; and a CLE program with nine or more panelists (including the moderator) must have at least three members from a diverse group.7 Failure to adhere to the D&I CLE Policy results in the ABA not sponsoring, co-sponsoring or seeking CLE accreditation for any group.

Approved in June 2016, the D&I CLE Policy is the result of diversity and inclusion initiatives at the ABA level. The ABA adopted the D&I CLE Policy in furtherance of Goal III, which, in turn, is how the policy came to be implemented within the Section.8 In order to maintain CLE accreditation for programs presented at any Section meeting, organizers must certify their compliance with the D&I CLE Policy.

Diversity and Inclusion Plan of the Section

The Section’s own diversity and inclusion efforts, however, pre-date the D&I CLE Policy. The Section adopted a diversity plan in May 2001 “to assist and encourage the members and leaders of the Section to ensure full and equal participation for lawyers of color, women lawyers, younger lawyers, lawyers with disabilities, and lawyers from diverse ethnic backgrounds.”9

In May 2014, the Council of the Section appointed a task force to evaluate the Section’s progress in fulfilling Goal III of the ABA and to make recommendations for concrete steps the Section could take to further Goal III of the ABA.10 In response, the task force prepared the Diversity and Inclusion Plan of the Section, which was approved in May 2015 and subsequently updated in May 2018.11

Pursuant to its current Diversity and Inclusion Plan, the Section strives to encourage full and equal participation in the Section by lawyers and law students with diverse backgrounds and perspectives, including individuals of color, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, Native Americans, individuals of diverse national and religious background, individuals of diverse ethnic and cultural heritages, individuals with disabilities, military veterans, and individuals of diverse ages and professional experiences.12 The Diversity and Inclusion Plan of the Section focuses on the following key areas: (1) promoting diversity and inclusion in Section members; (2) promoting diversity and inclusion in Section leadership; (3) promoting diversity and inclusion in Section meetings; (4) raising awareness that diversity and inclusion are valued by the Section; (5) coordinating with diversity-focused ABA Commissions and Divisions; and (6) periodically reviewing and re-evaluating the Diversity and Inclusion Plan of the Section.13 The Diversity and Inclusion Plan of the Section, among other things, also included a Diversity in the Profession Committee at the Section leadership level to lead and oversee diversity and inclusion initiatives and set forth action steps for implementation.14

Diversity Committee of the Section

Unlike the Diversity in the Profession Committee, the Diversity Committee operates at the committee level of the Section. The goals of the Diversity Committee are twofold. The first is to provide opportunities for lawyers of color, women lawyers, LGBT lawyers, young lawyers, lawyers with disabilities and lawyers from diverse backgrounds to become actively involved in the Section and in leadership positions both within the Diversity Committee and within the Section. The second is to present programs on diverse areas of tax. At each Section meeting the Diversity Committee hosts a lunch and sponsors various CLE programs to carry out these goals. In the past, Diversity Committee CLE programs have addressed opportunity zone credits, the earned income tax credit, retirement policy, renewable energy tax equity partnerships and collection alternatives for small businesses. All members of the Section, regardless of whether a member identifies as diverse, are encouraged not only to attend a lunch or CLE program but also to participate as a speaker on a Diversity Committee panel.

Conclusion

In its Diversity and Inclusion Plan, the Section acknowledges that diversity in the membership of the Section brings a variety of unique and valuable skills and perspectives to the Section and its members. But as Professors Alice Abreu and Richard Greenstein note in their research discussing the lack of diversity within the tax bar:

[A] more diverse tax bar would lead to a tax law that reflects the needs of a diverse population. Members of the tax bar not only provide scholarly commentary on tax policy but they serve in the professional organizations to which policy makers look to provide comments on legislative and regulatory proposals as well as on the staffs of the congressional committees that craft tax legislation. They also serve as lawyers for the [Internal Revenue Service], the Tax Division of the Justice Department, and for the many state and local taxing authorities that interpret the tax law and determine enforcement and litigation priorities.15

Increasing diversity in the profession requires a conscious and deliberate effort by all of us, not just by those directly involved in developing and implementing diversity and inclusion policies.

  1. Call for Applications: Diversity and Inclusion Scholarships to 2020 Midyear Tax Meeting, ABA Section of Taxation (Nov. 6, 2019).
  2. ABA Mission and Goals, ABA.
  3. Id.
  4. The ABA House of Delegates is the policy-making body of the ABA. See ABA House of Delegates, ABA,.
  5. Goal III, ABA.
  6. ABA Diversity & Inclusion CLE Policy, ABA.
  7. The D&I CLE Policy defines the term “diversity” to mean race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. See id.
  8. Other efforts by the ABA to further its objectives under Goal III include the creation of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion in the Profession, which was established in 2018 and is comprised of various ABA entities, including the Diversity and Inclusion Center, the Commission on Disability Rights, the Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and the Commission on Women in the Profession. See About Us, Diversity and Inclusion Center, ABA.
  9. ABA Section of Taxation, Diversity and Inclusion PlanJune 2018, ABA.
  10. Id.
  11. Id.
  12. Id.
  13. Id.
  14. Id.
  15. Alice G. Abreu & Richard K. Greenstein, Rebranding Tax/Increasing Diversity, 96 Denver Law Review 1, 48 (Apr. 4, 2018).

Section of Taxation members can discuss this article in the ABA Tax Times Community. ➔