The ABA is dedicated to maintaining a commitment to diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. In order to obtain that mission, Goal III of the ABA’s four goals is devoted to eliminating bias and enhancing diversity. The objective of Goal III is:
- Promote full and equal participation in the association, our profession, and the justice system by all persons;
- Eliminate bias in the legal profession and the justice system.
To monitor Goal III’s progress and promote equal participation in the association, the ABA created the following four Commissions.
- Commission on Disability Rights
- Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity
- Commission on Women in the Profession
- Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI)
Commission on Disability Rights
Established in 1973, the ABA Commission on Disability Rights’ mission is to promote the ABA’s commitment to justice and the rule of law for persons with mental, physical, and sensory disabilities, and to promote their full and equal participation in the legal profession. Mark D. Agrast is the current chair.
Among the Commission’s many initiatives, the Pledge for Change: Disability Diversity in the Legal Profession encourages law firms, in-house counsel, bar associations, judiciaries, law schools, and other legal employers to affirm their commitment to disability diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. Also, the Commission’s National Mentor Program for Lawyers and Law Students with Disabilities pairs law students, prospective law students, and recent law graduates with disabilities with practicing attorneys, who can share their experiences and provide guidance.
Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession
Established in 1986, the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession is the oldest racial and ethnic entity within the ABA. Its mission is to promote full and equal participation in the Association, the legal profession, and the justice system by all persons and to eliminate bias in the legal profession and the justice system. The Commission’s current chair, F. John Garza, is committed to the Commission’s goals, including: assisting minorities in obtaining a legal education and admission to the bar, developing career and employment opportunities, and to educate the legal profession about the importance of racial diversity within the law.
Additionally, for the past 20 years, the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession has provided the Spirit of Excellence Awards. This award celebrates the efforts and accomplishments of lawyers who work to promote a more racially and ethnically diverse legal profession and is presented to the lawyers who excel in their professional settings; who personify excellence on the national and international level; and who have demonstrated a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in the legal professional. Some of the past recipients of the Spirit of Excellence Award includes Robert J. Grey, Jr., Hon. Jaqueline H. Nguyen, Kim J. Askew and Kevin K. Washburn.
Commission on Women in the Profession
The Commission on Women in the Profession was created in August 1987 to assess the status of women in the legal profession, identify barriers to advancement, and recommend to the ABA actions to address problems identified. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first chair of the Commission, set the pace for the Commission to change the face of the legal profession by issuing a groundbreaking report in 1988 showing that women lawyers were not advancing at a satisfactory rate. From this report, the Commission found that a variety of discriminatory barriers remained a part of the professional culture and that the significant increase in the number of women attorneys would not eliminate these barriers. A thorough reexamination of the attitudes and structures in the legal profession was needed.
Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, the Commission has served as a catalyst for change for women in the legal profession through cutting-edge and groundbreaking studies, programs, and publications. In recent years, the Commission has focused on the creation of several toolkits for state and local bar associations, minority and specialty bars, law firms, and corporations that offer solutions for meaningful change in the profession and all the resources needed to jumpstart the dialogue on these critical issues. These toolkits are practical and results-oriented.
Advancement in the profession requires drive and ambition, and the Commission has encouraged women lawyers to seek power and influence. Toward that end, the Commission launched the Grit Project, an initiative that educates women lawyers about the science behind grit and growth mindset – two important traits that many successful women lawyers have in common. The Grit Project Toolkit provides all the materials needed to present successful training programs that can be used by law firms, law departments, bar associations, and law schools to educate women concerning the importance of grit and a growth mindset and how to improve these traits.
- The Grit Project Program Toolkit
- The Grit Project
- The ABA Toolkit for Gender Equity in Partner Compensation (in conjunction with the ABA Task Force on Gender Equity)
- Women of Color Toolkit
- Women of Color Research Initiative
- Online Learning Library: This online library provides access at no charge to resources on a wide range of issues important to the advancement of women lawyers: grit and growth mindset, leadership, negotiating compensation, and women of color.
Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Established in 2007, the mission of the ABA Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity is to lead the ABA’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and full and equal participation by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in the Association, the legal profession and society. Seeking to establish equal treatment without regards to sexual orientation or gender identity, the current Chair, Jim Holmes, maintains legislative advocacy of LGBT issues as the Commission’s top priority.
To help educate the legal profession about its mission and goals, the Commission has partnered with the National LGBT Bar Association and is planning a publication called “Out and About” at the annual meeting in Chicago. This publication will share the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender attorneys, academics, and jurists in the profession, through their own words, in an effort to educate the legal profession and the general public about this diverse group, its contributions and its struggles.
Additionally, the Commission develops training programs designed for judges on complex LGBT legal issues. It also partners with with ABA entities for CLE on LGBT/human rights issues related to specialty/practice areas, and advocates “Best Practices” guidelines for law firms and corporate law departments on inclusion for LGBT attorneys.
About the Author
Cynthia Thomas is the founder of PLMC & Associates, a management consulting firm for small and midsize law firms.