Home / Expert Opinion / GRAWA President’s Message: Diversity and inclusion education is important for all attorneys

GRAWA President’s Message: Diversity and inclusion education is important for all attorneys

Jodie Ryan

Jodie Ryan

As most of you probably know, the New York State CLE Board recently created a new category of CLE credit, effective Jan. 1, 2018, called Diversity, Inclusion and Elimination of Bias (D&I). D&I programs must relate to the practice of law and may include, amongst other topics, implicit and/or explicit bias, equal access to justice, serving a diverse population, diversity and inclusion initiatives in the legal profession, and sensitivity to cultural and other differences when interacting with members of the public, including judges, jurors, other attorneys, etc. Experienced attorneys who are due to re-register after July 1, 2018, must now complete at least one credit hour in D&I.

In bringing this new CLE requirement to fruition, it appears the CLE Board concluded that issues relating to diversity and the elimination of bias only apply to “experienced” attorneys (those admitted to the New York Bar for more than two years) as the new requirement does not apply to newly admitted attorneys. An attorney admitted in New York State for less than two years is not required to take any D&I CLEs. In the event a newly admitted attorney attends any D&I CLEs, they will not receive credit for the CLE unless credit is awarded in another category.

The omission of newly admitted attorneys from the Diversity CLE requirement makes no logical sense. As employers of newly admitted attorneys make better efforts to mentor young attorneys and work to prepare them for what is hopefully a long and prosperous legal career, it would seem that CLEs that fall under the D&I category would be highly suitable for the younger admittees in our state. The fact that newly admitted attorneys are not required to meet the new CLE requirement unequivocally diminishes the importance of racial and ethnic aptitude in the legal profession.

I am happy to report that GRAWA, along with support from other local bar associations and through the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York, recently voiced our opinion on this issue to the New York State Continuing Legal Education Board. Learning the elements of a contract and when the rule against perpetuities applies under a specific set of facts are the types of lessons that are at the crux of a law student’s class schedule. However, diversity and the practical aspects of eliminating bias are not the types of things that I recall learning about in law school. While that was over 15 years ago for me, I would be shocked to learn that the law school curriculum in New York has changed all that much since I was a student.

In the context of the workplace, there is no doubt that diversity requires inclusion. Without inclusion, crucial connections like those that nurture innovation, attract diverse talent, inspire participation, and lead to personal development and growth in the legal profession will not occur. As noted diversity advocate Verna Myers previously stated “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” To that end, I am hopeful that the New York State CLE Board hears our voice on this topic and applies the D&I requirement to all New York attorneys across the board. After all, who doesn’t love a good dance party?

Jodie Ryan is of counsel in the Rochester office of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP, and president of the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys.

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