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ABA revises its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion CLE Policy

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ABA logoThe ABA has amended its continuing legal education policy to do away with numeric requirements for panel diversity, a move that may bring it into compliance with rules set by the Florida Supreme Court for CLE program accreditation in the state.

“The Florida Bar has reviewed the ABA’s revised Diversity, Equity and Inclusion CLE Policy, and it appears to comply with Rules Regulating the Florida Bar 6-10.3(d),” said Terry Hill, director of the Bar’s Programs Division.

In 2021, the Supreme Court amended Bar rules to ban quotas based on “race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and multiculturalism” for speakers and panelists at Bar-approved CLE programs in response to a Business Law Section policy requiring a minimum number of “diverse” faculty for its CLE programs, saying the policy was setting a quota, something prohibited under court precedents.

Shortly afterwards, the Bar began rejecting CLE credit for courses from any provider with a similar policy for CLE faculty. Particularly affected were courses from the ABA, which had adopted its own CLE speaker diversity policy in 2016. The Business Law Section policy, which has since been repealed, was based on that ABA policy.

The ABA Board of Governors approved its revised policy April 5, doing away with the numerical requirements but affirming “the association’s strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, and its support for proactive measures to ensure individuals from all backgrounds have fair opportunities to participate in Continuing Legal Education programs sponsored or co-sponsored by the ABA.”

The newly adopted policy specifies that ABA CLE programs and those the ABA co-sponsors advance the aspirations of Goal III of the ABA Mission and Goals: to eliminate bias and enhance diversity.

“With the policy the ABA Board of Governors approved [April 5], the ABA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion will be showcased in every CLE program it makes available to lawyers,” ABA President Reginald Turner said in a statement. “Our nation and our profession are blessed with a great diversity of people, from every conceivable background. The ABA has long supported equal opportunities for all. Everyone benefits when participation in ABA programs, including our CLE panels, is maximized.”

The ABA also created a committee with the authority to “engage and assist” any ABA entities to ensure “continued progress on presenting CLE panels that reflect the diversity of the legal profession and demonstrate the ABA’s commitment to eliminate bias and enhance diversity.”

In banning quotas for CLE panels a little over a year ago, the court said while the quota policies were understandable, they cited past U.S. Supreme Court decisions and held they were inconsistent with established law on discrimination.

“Quotas based on characteristics like the ones in this policy are antithetical to basic American principles of nondiscrimination,” the court said acting in In re: Amendment to Rule Regulating The Florida Bar 6-10.3, Case No. SC21-284. “It is essential that The Florida Bar withhold its approval from continuing legal education programs that are tainted by such discrimination.”

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