CLE Fosters Inclusion and Addresses Bias

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Photo of a Black woman student sitting in a lecture hall surrounded by peers.

Though required by a majority of state bar associations for ongoing licensure, continuing legal education (CLE) credits are not just about fulfilling professional requirement.— they are a vital mechanism for attorneys to stay current, expand their knowledge, and uphold ethical standards.

In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on equity, fairness, and inclusion within the legal profession, prompting legal institutions and organizations to offer specialized CLE programs. They are designed to address biases, promote cultural competency, and foster a more inclusive work environment.

They are also intended to promote a fair and just judicial system by equipping attorneys with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate complex societal challenges through examining their own biases. This work helps them better understand diverse perspectives and more effectively advocate for people from underrepresented communities.

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One notable example is an event hosted in late 2023 by Villanova University’s Law Library and Girard-diCarlo Center for Ethics. An exhibition based on the book “Lawyers Without Rights: Jewish Lawyers in Germany Under the Third Reich,” delved into historical injustices leading up to and during the Holocaust in order to underscore the importance of upholding the rule of law and safeguarding against arbitrary practices.

“Yes, this exhibit is about Holocaust education and remembrance, but it’s also a vivid and sad reminder that when lawyers, the judicial system, and the just rule of law are undermined, and when abuses go unchecked and are permitted to flourish, great tragedy can follow,” William J. Choyke, JD, the book’s editor and senior strategist for the American Bar Association, said at the event. “This is what happened in Germany in 1933. Too many people were silent and we can’t look away again.”

The event, which provided ethics CLE credits to attending attorneys, featured discussions led by Douglas Morris, author and former federal defender for New York City, and David Gill, consul general of Germany.

The exhibit, which has since moved to other universities and community institutions throughout the U.S. — most recently the Michigan State University College of Law — serves as an important educational tool for practicing attorneys and students about the dangers of authoritarianism and the degradation of legal systems.

“If we really mean ‘never again,’ we must commit ourselves to that goal and start with vigilance globally and education locally,” Choyke said.

Even within the realm of equity-focused CLE credits, there are discussions covering a wide variety of subjects. For instance, despite recent challenges to DEI efforts in Florida, the Stetson University College of Law recently organized the “Diversity on the Bench and Bar” event, which promoted greater representation within the legal profession through panel discussions. Attending attorneys received six CLE credits.

Additionally, Mitchell Hamline School of Law’s online CLE event, “Oppressive Trauma Informed Care and Healing Practices for Law Students and Lawyers,” featured discussions on the relationships between mental health, historical oppression, and the judicial system. The conversations were led by leaders of two Minnesota nonprofits: Creative Kuponya — which provides mental health support through a DEI lens — and the Legal Revolution. The latter operates the Prison to Law Pipeline program, which facilitates paralegal degrees for incarcerated students. Through the event, and in their general partnership, the leaders discussed ways to provide mental health care to those impacted by the legal system.

Sara Stamschror-Lott, director and co-founder of Creative Kuponya, said at the event, “Our purpose is to think through, ‘How do we embed wellness into The Legal Revolution, into the Pipeline, and on a larger level how do we embed wellness into the work of the law?’”

CLE programs like these bridge the gap between legal education and real-world practice, empowering attorneys to advocate for fairness, equity, and justice. Universities play a vital role in organizing these events and fostering a culture of inclusion and belonging within the legal profession and within their own institutions.