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ABA responds to Florida court order barring CLE ‘quotas’

July 19, 2021

The American Bar Association filed comments July 15 in response to the Florida Supreme Court opinion that prevents The Florida Bar from accrediting continuing legal education (CLE) programs by organizations that have “quotas” for diversity in their CLE panels. The ABA’s comments address the court’s concerns and explain that the ABACLE Diversity and Inclusion Policy is one of inclusion, not exclusion.

The ABA filed comments in response to a Supreme Court of Florida's order concerning "quotas" in CLE panels.

The ABA filed comments in response to a Supreme Court of Florida's order concerning "quotas" in CLE panels.

The Florida court’s order prohibited The Florida Bar from approving any CLE program from a sponsor that uses “quotas based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, national origin, disability or sexual orientation in the selection of course faculty or participants.” Specifically, the order invalidated the Florida Business Law Section’s policy, which is substantially the same as the ABA policy.

The ABA adopted the policy in 2016, and it seeks to broaden the diversity of panels at ABACLE programs by creating the goal of adding panelists from diverse backgrounds if a CLE panel is not diverse. The policy furthers ABA Goal III, which seeks to eliminate bias and enhance diversity in the legal profession.

The ABA’s comments to the Florida Supreme Court order reaffirm that the ABA policy continues to “meet the aspirations of Goal III” by fostering the participation and engagement by lawyers from diverse backgrounds who historically may not have been selected for CLE panels. In response to the ruling, the ABA undertook to examine the policy “from the ground up” to better understand how the policy could have been misperceived. 

To address the misperception, the comments include revisions to the policy to conform the language of the policy to the way it has always operated in practice. The new language clarifies the ABA’s goal of inclusion: If a CLE panel is not otherwise diverse, program organizers should add panel participants who bring diversity to achieve the goal of the policy.

“With this clarification, the ABA believes that there can no longer be any doubt that its (CLE) Diversity & Inclusion Policy does not offend the equal protection principles set forth” in U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the brief added.

Roughly 335 ABA programs approved by Florida prior to the Supreme Court order remain eligible for Florida credit. This includes general programs and others, such as ethics, professionalism, mental illness awareness, bias elimination and technology. 

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