American Bar Association publishes new data on minorities and bar pass rates

New data published by the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, has suggested that White test-takers were more likely to pass the bar exam in 2020 than test-takers of other races and ethnicities.  Within the grouping of those who identified as White men and women, 88% passed the Bar examination the first time. By comparison, 66% of Black first-time test-takers passed, 76% of Hispanics, 78% of Hawaiians, 78% of Native Americans and 80% of Asians. The report, which was released on the 22nd of June, includes data from 2020 and 2021 aggregated from across all 197 ABA-accredited law schools, broken down into nine different ethnicity categories. 

Under ABA rules bar passage results influence the “ultimate” pass rate. This is a measure of success in the bar examinations over a two-year period. Under 2019 revisions to the bar passage rule known as Standard 316, ABA-approved law schools must have 75% of their graduates who take the bar examination pass it within two years of graduation or face the potential of being found out of compliance.

The ultimate pass rate was higher for all ethnic categories than the rate for first-time takers. For 2019 graduates, for instance, white law graduates posted a 91% ultimate pass rate, and rates for other categories ranged upward from 75% based on 2020 and 2021 data.

Bill Adams, ABA managing director of accreditation and legal education, said that “During discussions on changes to Standard 316 concerns were expressed over the lack of national data on bar passage by members of different racial and ethnic groups. We promised to collect and publish such aggregate data and consider whether the requirements of the standard needed to be reconsidered in light of what we collected,” he said. “This report is consistent with that promise and will be further evaluated in the months to come.”

Read the full report here

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ABA President Patricia Lee Refo – “Lack of advancement is not a ‘woman’ problem, it’s a ‘profession’ problem”

In a new column for the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal, ABA President Patricia Lee Refo has called for a change in attitude towards the way in which gender is viewed in the profession. In the column, she describes how the lack of progression for women in the profession represents systemic issues in both the retention and promotion of female staff within the legal industry.

She goes on to describe some of the ABA’s work in the area, as well as calling for more to be done to increase the number of women working in the profession, as well as to assist those already employed within the profession. The article has been co-signed by the 9 other ABA presidents who were women.

Read the full article here. 

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American Bar Association releases new report on the challenges faced by female lawyers

A newly released American Bar Association (ABA) report entitled, “In Their Own Words: Experienced Women Lawyers Explain Why They Are Leaving Their Law Firms and the Profession,” aims to shed light on factors that affect career decision making amongst experienced female lawyers.  This includes information on why practitioners choose to remain in practice, move to a different job within the law or step out of the profession altogether after 15 or more years of practice.

The report was written by Joyce Sterling, a professor at the Sturm College of Law in Denver, and Linda Chanow, executive director of the Center for Women in Law at the University of Texas. The report includes analysis on the components that advance or impede long-term careers for female lawyers. The research was carried out via focus groups in six cities across the USA, as well as through individual interviews, with comments made during the interviews including:

“You give me the hardest problems to solve, but you tell me I am less important with the compensation you give me.”

“I don’t feel like I have anyone in a position of power who can personally relate to me.”

“[T]he power dynamic is very real. . . [P]eople are very uncomfortable when women lean into their power.”

The report includes recommendations designed to increase retention of female attorneys which include:

  • Assess the impact of firm policies and practices on female lawyers.
  • Take steps to ensure there is a critical mass of female partners on key firm committees.
  • Increase lateral hiring of female partners.
  • Provide resources to relieve pressures from family obligations.
  • Be flexible to support changing practices.

ABA President Patricia Lee Refo has said.“This report highlights the ongoing systemic barriers women still face in the legal profession. These women’s personal stories are eye-opening, and the recommendations illustrate the changes we need to make to support and advance all female lawyers.”

Read the full report here, or read more here.

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American Bar Association data shows increase in bar passage scores during the pandemic

New bar score data from the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, released on the 23rd of April 23, showed an increase in the scores compared to 2019 on both the ‘ultimate’ pass rate and for first-time takers, with the aggregate score of law graduates taking the exam for the first time rising by 3% to an 82.83% pass rate.

The data found that:

Students taking the bar exam for the first time in 2020 achieved an aggregate 82.83% pass rate (83.66% with Diploma Privilege), representing a 3-percentage point increase over the comparable 79.64% pass rate for 2019. Diploma Privilege considers those waived into the practice of law without taking the bar because of special rules during the pandemic.

And that 89.99% of 2018 law graduates who sat for a bar exam passed it within two years of graduation (90.10% with Diploma Privilege). This two-year marker, referred to as the  “ultimate” rate is slightly better than the 89.47% comparable figure for 2017 graduates. The report noted that 94.98% of all graduates sat for a bar exam within two years of graduation, and that schools were able to obtain bar passage information from 98.84% of their 2018 graduates.

Under a rule change in 2019, the 197 ABA-approved law schools still accepting students are required to have at least 75% of graduates who sit for a bar exam pass within two years of graduation. Schools found out of compliance have at least two years to meet the rule, known as Standard 316.

“These reports over the years have provided important consumer information for students considering whether and where to attend law school and for others with an interest in legal education,” said Bill Adams, managing director for ABA accreditation and legal education.

Read more about the data.

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American Bar Association issues new guidance on remote working and ethical use of technology

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility has released a formal opinion cataloguing the relevant model rules and technological considerations that lawyers should be aware of when practising virtually. The opinion (Formal Opinion 498) identifies some of the minimum requirements for virtual practice under the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct as well as suggesting several best practices to meet ethical obligations in a virtual setting.

The opinion states that “When practising virtually, lawyers must particularly consider ethical duties regarding competence, diligence, and communication, especially when using technology,” the opinion said. “In compliance with the duty of confidentiality, lawyers must make reasonable efforts to prevent inadvertent or unauthorized disclosures of information relating to the representation and take reasonable precautions when transmitting such information.” Noting that the “duty of supervision” requires lawyers who supervise others to “make reasonable efforts to ensure” that their direct reports comply with the model rules, particularly if these colleagues are still working virtually.

The best practices cover hardware devices and software systems; accessing client files and data; using virtual meeting platforms and videoconferencing; and virtual document and data exchange platforms, among others.

Read the full opinion here.

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Event: There is More Than One Way: Re-Imagining the Pathway Post Secondary Education

July; 30, 2021

Online

The goal of pipeline programs is to ultimately increase diversity within the legal profession. But is it time to re-evaluate the path toward that goal. This program will feature presentations from the California Community College Pathway to Law Initiative and Indiana University McKinney School of Law who will discuss their innovative programs for increasing post-secondary interest in, and preparation for, law school.

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ABA releases first model diversity survey report on law firm equity and inclusion

On the 16th February, the American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession today released its 2020 ABA Model Diversity Survey Report, the first report focused on diversity, equity and inclusion within law firm practices in the USA.

The Model Diversity Survey (MDS), was developed in 2016, and is designed to give clients the tools to review and assess diversity, equity and inclusion of the legal service providers and to make decisions regarding hiring and retention. It assesses firm policies, practices and outcomes regarding hiring, attrition, promotion, leadership, work schedules and compensation. The MDS Report includes 2017-19 data from more than 370 law firms.

Some of the findings of the survey were that:

  • Firm leadership was overwhelmingly made up of white men relative to white women and racial, LGBTQ+ and disabled minorities of any gender identity.
  • Hires and promotions/attrition suggest that representation of minority groups is growing at the bottom levels of associates but is declining at the higher levels of non-equity and equity partners.
  • Attrition rates were substantially larger for nonwhite attorneys (e.g., nearly three times larger for African American/Black and Hispanic/Latino attorneys) relative to white attorneys.
  • The percentage of white associates promoted to equity partner was slightly higher than the percentage of white associates promoted to non-equity partner. This pattern was reversed for female associates, and the associates of all other racial minority groups which displayed larger percentages promoted to non-equity partner than to equity partner.
  • Minority males and females consistently ranged between 0% to 2% of the top 10% highest-paid attorneys in law firms.

The full report can be viewed here.

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ABA issues new guidance on navigating model rules remotely

On the 16th December 2020 the American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released a formal opinion to help lawyers to better understand the application of model rules to lawyers practising remotely, this is particularly for those working from jurisdictions in which they are not licensed.

Formal Opinion 495 provides guidance when a lawyer may practice the law for which they are licensed while physically in a different jurisdiction. The guidance has stated that if a lawyer is physically present in a jurisdiction in which they are not licensed to practice — and the local jurisdiction has not determined such practice is unauthorized – the lawyer may practice if they meet the following guidelines:

  • They do not establish an office or other systematic presence in that local jurisdiction.
    They do not “hold out” a presence or availability to perform legal services in that local jurisdiction.
    They do not actually provide legal services for matters in that local jurisdiction.
    The opinion notes that providing local contact information on websites, letterhead, business cards or advertising are examples of communications that would improperly suggest a local office or local presence.

Read the full guidance here. 

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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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