ABA study reveals that disabled and LBGTQ+ lawyers face discrimination

A study carried out by the ABA in collaboration with the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University has found that lawyers who either identify as having disabilities or who identify as LGBTQ+ commonly report experiencing both subtle and overt forms of discrimination at their workplaces.

The study surveyed 3,590 lawyers, including individuals from every state and the District of Columbia, and was conducted over the course of 2018 to 2019. The study examines individuals with multiple identities that intersect, such as people of differing sexual orientations and gender identities who also have disabilities.

ABA President Judy Perry Martinez has said that the“study is an important first step in working towards a more inclusive and better legal profession by identifying bias and stigmas against LGBTQ+ lawyers as well as lawyers with disabilities. The ABA remains committed to its core goal of eliminating bias and enhancing diversity. Discrimination against people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ individuals, whether structural or unintentional, needs to be eradicated.”

Among the key findings of the study were:

4 of 10 respondents reported perceptions or experiences of subtle but unintentional biases. 1 in 5 respondents noted the experience of subtle and intentional biases.

Approximately 16.6% of the lawyers responding identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual, and 0.4% identified their sexual orientation as open. Of 67 lawyers who were women and identified as LGB with a health condition, slightly more than half reported they had experienced discrimination in their workplaces.

Read the full ABA report.

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ABA issues new guidance on lawyer misconduct

On the 15th July, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released guidance that expands on a model rule that covers a lawyer’s conduct related to harassment and discrimination.

ABA Formal Ethics Opinion 493 outlines how ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(g) addresses actions by a lawyer beyond the courtroom and the context of client representation. This could include operating an office or behaviour at bar association or other business and social events when they are related to the practice of law.

The rule makes it professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination based on various categories, including sex, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. The rule is broader than federal anti-discrimination laws because it also covers conduct that is not severe or pervasive, a standard often utilized for employment discrimination.

The formal opinion notes that most free speech is protected, but the rule is violated by harmful conduct, which “will often be intentional and typically targeted at a particular individual or group of individuals, such as directing a racist or sexist epithet towards others or engaging in unwelcome, nonconsensual physical conduct of a sexual nature.” It said the rule is “critical to maintaining the public’s confidence in the impartiality of the legal system and its trust in the legal profession as a whole.”

Read the formal opinion and the model rule,  or read the ABA’s statement on the new guidance. 

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ABA launches new resource on racial justice

The American Bar Association has announced the launch of the ABA Racial Equity in the Justice System website. A central resource aimed at providing information to ABA members, attorneys, the profession and the public on issues such as addressing bias, racism and prejudice in the justice system and society. The website will include resources such as ABA policies and positions; articles from publications; statements from the ABA; model rules and standards; CLEs and webinars; toolkits and training; links to ABA diversity, equity and inclusion entities; resources addressing courts and access to justice, law enforcement, and related statements from other bar associations and affinity bars.

ABA President Judy Perry Martinez said “The American Bar Association is intensifying its efforts to ensure justice and fairness for all … For too long, African Americans have borne the brunt of racism through laws that unjustly and disproportionately impact people of color. Through efforts like this website, we want to make it easier for lawyers to access information and become more involved in reforming our laws and improving the justice system.”

Visit the ABA Racial Equity in the Justice System websiteSee the ABA news release.

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Event: ABA Virtual Annual Meeting – Convening for Justice

July 29 – August 4, 2020
Online

The American Bar Association, in consideration of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, announced on April 30 that it will transition its 2020 Annual Meeting, scheduled for July 29-Aug. 4 in Chicago, to an entirely virtual meeting.
The virtual meeting will offer registrants access to influential speakers relevant to the legal profession and the highest-quality programming with a revised schedule to accommodate members’ locations and time. The virtual meeting will include governance and business meetings, CLE Showcase programs, virtual networking opportunities, General Assembly with the presentation of the ABA Medal, and the House of Delegates.“For the first time in ABA history, we are offering this entire capstone event as a complimentary member benefit, which will enable even more lawyers to participate, perhaps some for the first time,” said ABA President Judy Perry Martinez.

“The health and safety of attendees and staff remains the primary concern of the ABA,” said ABA Executive Director Jack Rives. “The decision to go virtual will allow us to give our members the best possible meeting experience while guaranteeing everyone’s well-being. We also expect that many of the innovations incorporated into this year’s meeting will be added to future in-person meetings.”

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ABA approves resolution to expand access to justice

On February 17th, during its annual midyear meeting, the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates approved resolution 115, encouraging State Bars to consider innovative approaches to expanding access to justice, particularly focused around improving the affordability and quality of civil legal services.

The resolution initially proposed by the ABA Center for Innovation and supported by several standing committees of the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, calls on state regulators and Bars to consider regulatory innovations that would improve accessibility, affordability and quality of civil legal services. The resolution initially faced strong opposition from several Bar Associations. However, the resolution received overwhelming support from 596 member house following the addition of a provision stating: “Nothing in this resolution should be construed as recommending any changes to any of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, including Rule 5.4, as they relate to non-lawyer ownership of law firms, the unauthorized practice of law or any other subject.” Rule 5.4 limits sharing of legal fees with non-lawyers as well as bars non-lawyer equity in law firms.

Further details about the meeting and the resolution are available here.

The proposed resolution and report are available here, with the final resolution available here.

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