Does Diversity Training Lead to Diversity in the Legal Profession?
It's no secret that the legal profession continues to figure out whether and how to increase gender and race diversity, especially as corporate clients begin to demand it. Indeed, there's an entire blog devoted to the topic of Law Firm Diversity. But how effective are bar-mandated "diversity training programs?" That's the issue that the Oregon Supreme Court grappled with in its review of the State Bar's mandatory bias classes, as reported in Oregon Supreme Court's bias-class rulings favor both sides (10/11/06). From the article:
Oregon Justices voted 5-1 to leave intact a requirement that lawyers educate themselves about how to eliminate racial and ethnic bias. But the justices also voted 6-0 to ask the Oregon State Bar's board of governors to offer a new proposal to reassess the classes, which amount to one hour each year toward continuing- education credits for lawyers -- and to suspend the requirement during the study.
This article, Oregon lawyers can't skip the diversity class (10/12/06), describes the primary explanation given for opposition to the courses -- they're boring!
"The classes are about how to be nice to each other, not about substantive law issues," said Catherine Coburn, a Beaverton attorney who was among the two-thirds majority of bar members who voted to nix the anti-bias requirement in April. "We are not questioning the value of diversity. But the quality of these classes is really very poor."
And some also argue that the courses are politically slanted, "political indoctrination, nothing more, nothing less."
In my view, diversity training often makes diversity issues worse, not better. Lawyers take their diversity courses, come out feeling good and, weeks later, fall back into their own ways. So instead of teaching diversity through outdated programs, how about making it worth lawyers' while economically, by holding business networking events that attract a diverse cross section of the bar? Nothing like economic incentives to overcome stereotypes and give lawyers a real reason to work together. Or, if the bar feels it must present diversity training in a conventional teaching format, why not use YouTube or podcasts to create diversity programs that lawyers could listen to at their leisure?
Posted by Carolyn Elefant on October 12, 2006 at 04:58 PM | Permalink
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