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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California approves measures to advance equity in attorney discipline

At its July 16 meeting, the State Bar Board of Trustees approved a plan aimed at improving equity in the attorney discipline system, following up on the bar’s first-ever study on racial disparities in the disciplinary system. The first group of reforms aim to expand representation by counsel when an attorney faces a disciplinary investigation.

“The State Bar is moving forward with concrete, specific actions that we believe will not only target the disparities noted in Professor Farkas’s research, but also make the discipline system work better for everyone.” said Donna S. Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director.

The study found that lack of representation by counsel during an investigation into an attorney by the State Bar was a statistically significant predictor of later discipline, the report also revealed that African American respondents were represented by counsel about half as frequently as other groups in the study.

The State Bar has said that they will:

  • Measure and report data on representation for attorneys in the discipline system;
  • Pilot-test messages informing respondent attorneys of the value of representation by counsel in disciplinary proceedings to evaluate the most effective method of encouraging representation; and
  • Work with the Association of Discipline Defense Counsel to develop and distribute a roster of attorneys who could provide low-cost and pro bono case evaluations to respondent attorneys.

Read the full report, or read the State Bar Association’s announcement about the changes.

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Institute for the Advancement of the Americal Legal System releases report on public confidence in the courts

The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) has released the findings of its new report into public confidence in the courts. The report comes as the culmination of an ongoing project which has had the following objectives:

  • Conduct exploratory research to facilitate a deeper understanding of how the public views the justice system and what drives public perceptions and attitudes.
  • Identify opportunities for additional research and advocacy that can help legal system stakeholders re-earn the trust and confidence of the public.
  • Curate outside perspectives from legal system experts to explore unique facets of the issue of public trust and confidence in the system.
  • Inform other IAALS’ user-focused research and projects.

The report has suggested that public confidence and trust in the courts is currently low, with the suggestion that many participants saw the value of the court system, but felt they had limited access, and little understanding, effectively shutting them out.

Read the full report. 

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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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ABA and Hinshaw warn of cyber risks when remote working

The American Bar Associaton (ABA) have highlighted that when working remotely there are important considerations around privacy risks, relating to digital working that should be considered. Ruth Hill Bro, co-chair of the ABA Cybersecurity Legal Task Force, warns that “Law firms are attractive targets and the risk of cyber breaches multiplies as more employees work remotely. The outbreak also is creating opportunities for hackers and scammers. There are thousands of COVID-19 scam and malware sites being created daily,”

The ABA suggests that once the decision has been made to ask employees to work from home, “firms should first perform a risk assessment. All work should be done on secure servers, using multifactor authentication to gain access to information.” in order to protect confidential client data.

Hinshaw, has released a further report highlighting some risks and recommendations around using video conferencing software, including technical, encryption, and settings recommendations to help improve the safety of calls, as well as advice around video-conferencing and client confidentiality.

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More regulatory responses to COVID-19

Following on from last month’s newsletter, we’ve put together the following list to examine different regulator responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here it is interesting to note the development and changes, as regulators begin to get a grasp on the crisis and develop innovative responses to meet the changing environment. If you have any questions or best practice for the rest of the ICLR community, please do get in touch, and we will be happy to include any of these in the next newsletter.

Illinois has introduced executive order 2020-14, this satisfies notarial requirements that a person must “appear before” a notary public if a two-way audio-video connection is used. It also allows documents to be witnessed through the same technology.


The Law Society of New South Wales has decided to run it’s annual Law Careers Fair as an online event, rather than cancelling it. The event will use zoom to create virtual presentations, with individual video booths and company landing pages replacing exhibitor booths. More information about the event is available here. The Society has also decided to reduce its $410 membership fee to $10, for the 2020-2021 period, allowing members to redirect funds to priority areas during the crisis.


The Law Society of Hong Kong has announced that civil hearing will take place remotely, with all other non-essential court hearings currently adjourned.


The Legal Sector Affinity Group which is made up of all the legal supervisory authorities in the UK, including the Law Society, Bar Council, CILEx, and the Law Society of Scotland, has released an advisory note on preventing money laundering during the crisis. The note discussed the increased risk of money laundering at the current time and what checks can be put in place to mitigate this.


The Council for Licensed Conveyancers in England and Wales is to allow members to defer fee payments, following the near-complete standstill in the UK property market. Members will be given the option to defer paying their practice fee and compensation fund contributions for April, May and June, which can be paid off over the following 4-12 months.


The California State Bar Board of Trustees has written to the California Supreme Court offering options and recommendations for the June First-Year Law Students’ Exam and the July Bar Exam. Full letter available here. Whilst the State Bar of Califonia has put in place emergency measures waiving late payment fees, as well as extending payment deadlines for membership fees and compliance deadlines.


The Law Society of Ontario has cancelled the lawyer licensing examinations and the call to the bar ceremonies due to take place in June. The society has said that alternative summer/autumn examination dates are being explored and that the administrative aspect of the call to the bar process is being undertaken remotely, allowing students to progress with their careers, with a celebration planned later in the year.


The Law Society of Saskatchewan and the Law Society of Alberta have temporarily reduced the articling requirements to a minimum of 8 months, instead of the previous minimum of 12 months, preventing a backlog of articling students due to limits created by coronavirus. Full statements available here and here. The Law Society of Alberta has also introduced changes allowing articling students to work remotely, as well as giving instructions on the supervision students doing this.


The American Bar Association has created a “Task Force on Legal Needs Arising Out of the 2020 Pandemic”, which launched a website on the 3rd of April to provide resources and information on the ongoing crisis and how this relates to the law. Statement available here, website available here. The ABA has also backed calls to adopt emergency rules that would allow recent and upcoming law school graduates who cannot take a bar exam because of the COVID-19 pandemic to engage in the limited practice of law, under the supervision of a licensed attorney, these individuals would have until the end of 2021 to practice without passing the bar exam. They hope this would limit the disruption to students careers, and help prevent the widening of the access to justice gap.  Full statement available here.

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Event cancellation – 2020 National Conference on Professional Responsibility and National Forum on Client Protection

The ABA and the Center for Professional Responsibility have decided, with regret, to cancel the 2020 National Conference on Professional Responsibility and the National Client Protection Forum, due to take place in New Orleans, because of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The committee have said that refunds for the conference will be automatically processed, and those with further questions should contact the ABA through the conference website.

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Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers

 

Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers
Jurisdiction: Massachusetts

Country: United States of America

Regulatory function: The Board of Bar Overseers and the Office of the Bar Counsel were established by the Supreme Judicial Court in 1974 as independent administrative bodies to investigate and evaluate complaints against lawyers.
Further information:
The Board website
ICLR members: Log in for a list of members at this organisation.
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