Attorneys in New York may soon be required to get what some call sensitivity training.
New York state court officials are considering a new proposal to require lawyers to complete a one-hour CLE every two years on the topic of diversity, inclusion and the elimination of bias.
The New York City and New York State Bar Associations have already endorsed the idea. The Monroe County Bar Association Board of Trustees added its support on Thursday.
The proposal is a follow-up to a February 2016 recommendation from the American Bar Association. Currently, only California and Minnesota require standalone CLEs covering diversity and inclusion.
Ultimately, the state Court of Appeals will decide whether to require the CLE. The Continuing Legal Education Board of the Unified Court System is accepting comments until Feb. 15.
“It’s an attempt to address the problem of a lack of diversity in the legal profession through education,” Monroe County Bar Association Executive Director Kevin F. Ryan said.
While the state court’s proposal calls for a one-hour CLE, the state Bar Association’s CLE Committee proposed one or two credit hours every two years.
The new CLE would not add to the 32 now required for new attorneys or the 24 required for experienced lawyers every two years. Currently, four of those CLE hours must cover ethics and professionalism.
“It would still be 24, but it’s another one that would be specified,” Ryan said.
If implemented, the new requirement “would have a wide-ranging impact on attorneys licensed to practice law in the United States,” state Bar officials said in a letter to New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore endorsing the proposal.
“Despite efforts by many New York City law firms to increase their engagement and investment in diversity progress and retention, the attrition rate of minority attorneys at those and other New York law firms remains disproportionately high. We must do more to reverse this trend,” the state Bar said in the letter.
Pamela Reynolds, an associate with Littler Mendelson PC and president of the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys, called the idea “a worthwhile requirement that would only help the profession.”
“Ideally, what happens is it begins the conversation and begins to spread information to attorneys that might not otherwise get that information just in their regular practice or daily life,” Reynolds said.
“It’s helpful for the culture in firms, or wherever attorneys are working, but also it can be helpful in interacting with clients,” she said.
Duwaine T. Bascoe, an associate at Woods Oviatt Gilmann LLP and chairman of the Monroe County Bar’s Diversity Committee, said the diversity CLE ideally will help attorneys identify their implicit biases.
“If you can expose that and help them to realize that we all deal with implicit biases, it could start the conversation,” Bascoe said.
“It’s nowhere near the end, or the final solution, but it is a starting point and you have to start somewhere.”