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Should the ABA mandate diversity in model rules?

The American Bar Association should include diversity as part of the group’s model rules for attorneys, according to a recent request from the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession.

The IILP — a nonprofit with a goal of increasing diversity among lawyers — sent a letter to the ABA seeking to have the national legal organization update the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to promote diversity based on race, sex, sexual orientation, disability and religion.

“[W]e respectfully urge that there be a new section that would specifically make efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in the legal profession a matter of ethics and professional conduct,” wrote Robert A. Clifford, a personal injury attorney in Chicago and the state delegate for Illinois to the ABA’s House of Delegates, and Marc Firestone, the president and chair of IILP and senior vice president and general counsel of Philip Morris International.

Including diversity in the Model Rules would help the ABA reach its stated goals to “eliminate bias and enhance diversity” and “promote full and equal participation in the association, our profession and the justice system by all persons,” they wrote.

According to the letter, the legal profession is “lagging” behind other professions in expanding diversity.

“If true diversity is to be a goal for our profession, the ABA is best positioned to take an active role in developing a new approach to diversity through language in the Model Rules,” Clifford said in a statement about the letter.

Firestone agreed.

“All lawyers should share a common interest in making our profession more diverse and inclusive. It is an imperative across practice areas, geographies, and demographics,” said Firestone. “As such, diversity and inclusion, I believe, should be a fundamental component of legal ethics. We hope that with new language in the Model Rules, more states will follow the lead of those states that have already made diversity a priority.”

The IILP suggested that the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility began work on proposed language for an amendment to the Model Rules to be ready for consideration by the House of Delegates no later than the ABA’s 2014 mid-year meeting.

While the Model Rules are not binding on attorneys, states often adopt mirror versions, which would hopefully create a “beneficial ripple effect” across the country, the IILP wrote.