Council moves to strengthen law school diversity mandates

The Council of the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has taken another step toward requiring law schools to account for their efforts in enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) among students, faculty and staff.

On November 19, the Council approved for notice and comment a proposed revision to Standard 206 that would require law schools to take “effective actions” to diversify the student body, faculty and staff, and to create an inclusive and equitable environment for all. Actions could include, among other efforts, setting and publishing goals related to diversity and inclusion, adopting pipeline programs and increasing outreach to underrepresented groups. Progress would be reported annually to the Council.

Law schools and the legal profession have faced criticism for failing to do enough to recruit and retain Blacks and other minorities. While the U.S. population is about 14% Black, for example, the 2021 ABA Profile of the Legal Profession found that only 4.7% of all lawyers were Black in 2021 – nearly unchanged from 4.8% in 2011.

The council, which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the national accreditor of 197 U.S. law schools, has been under pressure to leverage change through its accreditation standards. Earlier, it approved changes to Standard 303, which would require education in diversity, equity and inclusion at least twice to law students during their academic tenure. This revision now goes before the ABA House of Delegates for final approval in February at the 2022 ABA Midyear Meeting. Under ABA rules, the HOD can review a standard twice before a final decision is made by the Council.

Earlier this year, proposed diversity-related changes to the standards sparked criticism, particularly in conservative media. This prompted Bill Adams, managing director of ABA Accreditation and Legal Education, to issue a statement in October that pointed out some of the criticism had conflated proposals for Standards 303 and 206, ignored Council revisions, and failed to recognize that the Council, not the ABA, independently accredited law schools.

The earliest a revamped Standard 206 could take effect would be after the ABA Annual Meeting in August 2022. “This is a great example of the notice and comment process at work,” Council Chair Leo Martinez said, pointing to the rework of Standard 206 after receiving earlier comments. “All and all, it will make for a better product.”


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