Elimination of bias in the legal profession – what does it mean to you? Is it a just another required course in some states? What are your thoughts on the ABA and state bars trying to actively eliminate bias and discrimination in the legal field? As you probably aren’t surprised to find out, these rules are predominantly aspirational and they carry much more bark than bite.
In California we are required to take 25 units every 3 years to fulfill our CLE requirements including four required courses in legal ethics, one on elimination of bias, and one on the prevention, detection, and treatment of substance abuse. Just glimpsing at the required courses, it’s easy to see what regulators and the State Bar of California find important – ethics, substance abuse, and bias and discrimination. Now, I know everyone complains about having to take CLE because attorneys know everything, but there must be a reason that we are mandated to take these required courses.
I think that not too many people could argue with the requirement of four ethics courses. These courses are meant to keep attorneys out of hot water with the State Bar and unhappy clients. Legal Ethics represents the baseline conduct that you can get away with and not get an ethics violation or complaint – many of which form the basis of malpractice claims. Substance Abuse – it’s easy to see why that’s required course. Nearly 60% of all ethics complaints and malpractice claims stem from problems with drugs and alcohol. It’s pretty simple – the practice of law is stressful, and instead of taking care of themselves many attorneys tend to self-medicate with booze, weed, pills, or others drugs of choice.
However, the question remains – should the ABA and state Bars regulate eliminating bias in the practice of law? If so, how should they go about regulating this conduct? Don’t we already have state and federal protection for certain classes of people already, isn’t this regulation duplicitious?
My answer: if there wasn’t a problem, there would be no mandatory elimination of bias requirement. Unfortunately, while the rest of the United States has become a more diverse place – especially in the last generation – the practice of law can still look like roll call at Augusta National Golf Club. For those of you unfamiliar with golf, Augusta National has a men-only policy – and just about every one of those men is white. My guess is that in thirty years, once America has become even more diverse, eliminating bias and discrimination will not be a problem. But take a look at the statistics and you will find that women, attorneys with disabilities, and attorneys from minority groups still qualitatively lag behind “the majority.” While quantitatively the numbers have increased over the years, according to the ABA minority representation among law partners remainsless than 3 % in most cities. And with the downturn in the economy, these diversity efforts have taken a beating because ‘diverse’ attorneys were some of the first cut loose at the firm and firms are not putting resources into these programs.
If you want to know more about the subject we have some great topics on the subject. I hate to plug myself, but …. I just got done filming a course on point this week entitled Bias & Discrimination in the Legal Profession – What Can Be Done? Some of the topics I discuss include the unique position of attorneys and their influence on society, the changing legal workplace, examples of bias and discrimination involving attorneys and judges, ABA and state regulation, and whether the private sector is better suited to promote diversity within the legal profession.
We also have another great course on the subject from dynamic speaker and Deputy District Attorney Wendy Patrick Mazzarella entitled Leveling the Playing Field: Eliminating Bias in the Legal Profession. In Leveling the Playing Field, Ms. Mazzarella starts by defining bias and then details the state and federal laws that outlaw bias and discrimination in the practice of law – including Title I, V, and VII. Ms. Mazzarella wraps up the presentation by pointing out who is not protected and presents numerous case examples, including an attorney who was asked by a judge to take his turban off.
What do you think? I want to hear your opinions on the subject …