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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Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System releases guides to cut through bias in legal hiring and improve legal education outcomes

The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), has released two new guides designed to explain innovative ways for legal educators and legal employers to implement data-driven, outcomes-based standards underpinned by IAALS’ Foundations for Practice research. The guides are based on  a survey of 24,000 lawyers and working sessions with 36 employers and 4 law schools and aim to provide law schools with a path to train better lawyers and employers a path to hire and retain the best lawyers.

Logan Cornett, IAALS Director of Research has said “The Foundations guides are a natural continuation of Foundations for Practice, launched in 2014. We conducted the largest study of its kind to identify the characteristics, competencies, and skills—what we call foundations—that new lawyers need to be successful. Now, as our country reckons with systemic racism, implicit bias, a shifting economy, and lack of access to justice, the Foundations data and tools provide new ways for the legal profession to rise to the occasion.”

By targeting both legal education and legal employment, Foundations aims to implement wholesale reform. The IAALS has identified what it sees as a cycle of tradition: teaching classes the way they always have been taught and hiring lawyers based on where they went to law school and their class rank. The empirical research of Foundations provides pathways for schools and law firms to evolve and better ensure the success for all new lawyers, but especially for those who are less advantaged because of race, gender, or socioeconomic background.

The Foundations Instructional Design Guide is for educators who want to improve their curriculum by designing and implementing learning outcomes and standards-based assessments. Through close review of course objectives, defining desired learning outcomes from students, and assessments.

The Foundations Hiring Guide is for employers who want to improve their hiring practices—to improve quality, retention, and diversity. Through close review of hiring criteria, designing objective ways to assess candidates for hire, and creating accountability measures.

Read more about the guides here, or access the instructional design guide, or the hiring guide.

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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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First Alternative Business Structures approved in USA

The first two fully licenced alternative business structures (ABSs) have been approved by the state of Arizona. On the 17th March 2021, two businesses, Trajan Estate LLC and Gilbert and Payne Huebsch PLC received their ABS license after the State Supreme Court approved their bids. Trajan Estate is a legal service provider focused on estate planning while Payne Huebsch provides transactional legal services paired with tax and accounting advice.

Last year Arizona became the first state to fully allow alternative business structures and non-lawyer ownership in law firms,  revoking state professional conduct rule 5.4 which barred nonlawyers from fee-sharing and holding an interest in law firms. The change came into effect in January 2021, allowing business to begin the approval process.

The licenses follow the approval of the first non-lawyer owned law firm in Utah, as part of the state’s two-year regulatory sandbox. Law on Call opened at the beginning of March 2021, allowing consumers unlimited over the phone access to lawyers, in a business entirely owned by non-lawyers. The business will however be subject to license reviews, as per the conditions of the sandbox.

Read more about the Arizona licences here, or the Utah licences here.

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Building an Antiracist Law School: Inclusivity in Admissions and Retention of Diverse Students—Leadership Determines DEI Success

Abstract

Structural problems, such as institutional racism and bias, require structural solutions. White people in the legal academy are only now reckoning with the reality of systemic racism within our hallowed halls, an insidiousness that many People of Color in the legal academy have always known. Yes, racism and bias are pervasive in our teaching, learning, service, and leadership environments.

This article is one of three interdependent articles authored by Penn State Dickinson Law faculty and staff. These articles are meant to be read together to chart the vision and implementation for building an Antiracist law school and providing a template for an Antiracist legal academy and legal profession. The other two articles in the trilogy are: Amy Gaudion, “Exploring Race and Racism in the Law School Curriculum: an Administrator’s View on Adopting an Antiracist Curriculum;” and Dermot Groome, “Exploring Race and Racism in the Law School Curriculum: Educating Antiracist Lawyers.”

This reckoning is the result of the intersecting crises of a global pandemic, which is disproportionately impacting Black and Brown people; a full-throated social movement demanding racial equality following 2020’s cascade of murders of, among others, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd; and a presidential election in which voter suppression was on full display, and a then sitting president’s apocryphal untruths regarding the election process sped up the need to address systemic inequities hampering the legal academy’s ability to transform legal education to truly deliver on its vision to promote the rule of law and equal justice for all.

During these cataclysmic events, the faculty and staff of Penn State Dickinson Law exercised leadership by leaning into the hydra-headed economic, social, and political storm of 2020 to declare unanimously their intention to act and implement Antiracist teaching and learning methods at the law school. Faculty and Staff did not anticipate the resonance that these actions would have on colleagues—including students, staff, faculty, administrators, and alumni—in the legal academy.

Our positions as faculty and staff in the legal academy and as attorneys in the legal profession are inherently ones requiring us to exercise leadership. In the legal profession, the defining aspects of leadership are heightened by duty, accountability, and a sworn obligation to act equitably, transparently, and with integrity. It was integrity that motivated Penn State Dickinson Law faculty and staff to take such an unprecedented, yet necessary position against systemic racism and bias, not just for the institution but for the academy and for the profession.

Penn State Dickinson Law acknowledged its obligation to embrace leadership that promotes equality and justice for all as well as the special obligation to train the next generation of leaders to do more and to do better. In service to the ongoing commitment to eradicate racism and bias, Penn State Dickinson Law is immersed in the work of constructing an Antiracist law school.

Conway, Danielle M. and Saidman-Krauss, Bekah and Schreiber, Rebecca, Building an Antiracist Law School: Inclusivity in Admissions and Retention of Diverse Students—Leadership Determines DEI Success (March 13, 2021). Rutgers Race and the Law Review, Forthcoming.

Read the full article on SSRN.

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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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American Bar Association Recognised Law School requirements relaxed due to COVID

The Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has announced that they will consider individual law school circumstances due to COVID-19 if bar passage rates fall below 75%. During the announcement at it’s November 20th public meeting, the council said law schools failing to meet Standard 316, sometimes called ‘the Bar Passage Standard’, could submit pandemic-related information that demonstrates negative opportunities for their graduates to sit for the bar exam or for the school to meet compliance with ‘the Standard’. This is particularly salient as rules adopted in 2019 mean that a law school faces a finding of noncompliance and loss of accreditation if it does not meet Standard 316 for two years.

Outside parties had asked for the suspension of Standard 316 during the COVID-19 period because of the bar exam’s changing schedule and the rule’s potential discriminatory effect on schools with strong minority enrollment. But the council’s Questionnaire and Template Committee said its “recommendations balance several competing interests.”

The committee’s report has said “There is a need to collect outcomes data required by the U.S. Department of Education but also the understanding that any data on the bar exam passage rates during the COVID-19 pandemic will likely be abnormal and need to have an ‘asterisk’ accompany it. The pandemic wreaked havoc with planning for in-person bar exams, and subsequently many states this year held bar exams in October instead of July. According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, five jurisdictions also granted emergency diploma privileges or approval for some law school graduates to practice without passing the bar.”

Read more on the ABA’s website.

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Program to offer Georgia Law students virtual internships with judges

Ana Maria Martinez, the head of the Georgia Latino Law Foundation, is organising a virtual judicial internship program for second-year law students who have had their summer associate internships cancelled.

The virtual internships with Georgia judges are open to all second-year students, at the state’s ABA-accredited law schools; and the deadline to apply is May 15. The program will last for five weeks and is unpaid, but will give students the experience of working in a judicial office.

Martinez, who is a staff attorney for DeKalb County State Court Judge Dax Lopez said: “It gives law students opportunities to have a substantive summer and feel like their hard work wasn’t wasted this year. It’s a way to expose them to new connections, how the court system works and perhaps a new mentor.”

Law students will be asked to commit to a minimum of 20 hours per week, which will be flexibly arranged around judges’ and attorneys’ schedules. Students will meet with judges or attorneys twice a week via Zoom.

See the full article on Law.com.

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ABA establishes group to look at the post-COVID-19 response

On the 13th May 2020, the American Bar Association announced the formation of the Coordinating Group on Practice Forward, with the aim of providing insight on the emerging challenges and opportunities confronting the legal profession and the justice system arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.  The coordination group will disseminate ABA resources as well as organise seminars, publications and other resources to coordinate ABA members and the profession, and to help to identify innovations and new ways of providing legal services that will arise following the COVID-19 crisis.

ABA President Judy Perry Martinez has said: “The American Bar Association is the preeminent body in the country positioned to exercise its convening power and provide the kind of thought leadership that the legal profession needs now. Adjusting to the new legal realities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic will be a major focus for the ABA moving forward. That is why President-elect Trish Refo and I are working together to help the legal profession rethink what may or may not be essential to sustaining lawyer-client relationships, maintaining quality, ethics and competency, and assuring public protection in both the civil and criminal justice arenas.”

Ms Refo has said: “We are going to leverage the power of the entire ABA to address all of the changes to the practice of law that will arise out of this extended period of remote working. Our work will help lawyers in all practice settings to better serve their clients.”

For more information see the full article on the ABA site.

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California Bar moves towards regulatory sandbox

The Board of Trustees of the State Bar of California took a 9-2 decision on the 14th May 2020 to form a working group to look into forming a regulatory sandbox in which innovative legal service providers would be subject to fewer regulations. This could include limiting unauthorised practice of law rules, as well as removing limits on fee sharing and partnership between lawyers and non-lawyers.

The decision is a major step forward in a potential move towards innovative business structures in California, following a vote to delay the decision by the Board in March, with board members saying they needed more time to consider the proposals.

Following the board meeting, which was held over Zoom, Chairman Alan Steinbrecher (who as Chairman did not vote) said: “This is a significant step and I think it will lead to an exciting future,”.

For more information see:

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