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Anti-bias, professionalism standards teed up for law schools

May 24, 2021

The Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is developing new requirements for American Bar Association-approved law schools to provide substantial opportunities for training and education in bias, cross-cultural competency and racism as well as professional identity development.

Proposed changes to law school curriculum standards address what it means to be a lawyer and special obligations to clients and society.

Proposed changes to law school curriculum standards address what it means to be a lawyer and special obligations to clients and society.

At its public meeting on May 14, the Council approved inviting stakeholder feedback on five different standards prior to making its final recommendations. The proposed changes also cover what a law school is required to offer its students in terms of information on well-being and financial loans and counseling.

The proposed changes to Standard 303, which addresses law school curriculum, seek to foster what it means to be a lawyer and the special obligations lawyers have to their clients and society. Separately, the Council is proposing 303 include a requirement that students receive broad anti-bias education and training both at the beginning and later in their legal studies.

“It will be interesting to see the feedback we get once they are out for notice and comment,” Council Chair Scott Bales, a retired chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, said of the anti-bias proposal during the meeting.

The well-being language falls under student support services (Standard 508) and would require law schools provide information on how to access well-being resources. “Law schools should strive to mitigate barriers or stigma to accessing (these) services,” companion guidance reads.

The three other proposed standards changes would:

  • Expand coverage of Standard 205, which addresses non-discrimination and equality of opportunity, to include military status, ethnicity and gender identity or expression. The standard now covers race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age and disability.

  • Change terminologies in Standard 206, which addresses diversity and inclusion, by replacing both the term “minority” with “people of color” and the requirement that law schools “demonstrate by concrete action a commitment to diversity and inclusion” to taking “effective actions that lead to progress.”

  • Require under Standard 507 that all admitted students receive information on available student loans and student loan counseling. The resources can be provided by the law school, the parent university or third-party services.

Under ABA procedures, final recommendations are subject to ABA House of Delegates concurrence although final decisions rest with the Council. The earliest any changes could take effect would be after the ABA Midyear Meeting in February 2022.

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