Amendments to ABA Standards Support the Objectives of Leadership Development Programming, Part 2

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By Leah Teague

As discussed in our last post, several amendments to the ABA Standard on Legal Education that were adopted on Feb. 22, 2022, reinforce the need for, and value of, leadership development. The proposed amendments are in Standards 303(b) (professional identity development), 303(c) (bias and cross-cultural competency & racism education), and 508(b) (student well-being resources). These three important topics are fundamental to robust leadership development programs and courses. Satisfying the new requirements can be achieved through adopting or enhancing leadership development at your law school. In this three-part series, we discuss each.

Part 1 was a discussion of the new requirement in ABA Standard 303(b) requiring law schools to “provide substantial opportunities to students for … the development of a professional identity.”  This post is Part 2 of this series and focuses on the requirement in ABA Standard 303(c) to “provide education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism.” Part 3 will be a future post to discuss the need for law schools to provide students with “information on law student well-being resources” in accordance with ABA Standard 508(b).

Part 2: Valuing Diversity and Inclusion, Understanding Bias, and Developing Cross-cultural Competency are Fundamental Aspects of Leadership Development

New efforts to encourage diversity, inclusion and cultural competency education resulted in the addition of ABA Standard 303(c), which reads:

(c) A law school shall provide education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism:

(1) at the start of the program of legal education, and
(2) at least once again before graduation.

For students engaged in law clinics or field placements, the second occasion will take place before, concurrent with, or as part of their enrollment in clinical or field placement courses.

The updated Standards also include new interpretations. New Interpretation 303-6 reads:

With respect to 303(a)(1), the importance of cross-cultural competency to professionally responsible representation and the obligation of lawyers to promote a justice system that provides equal access and eliminates bias, discrimination, and racism in the law should be among the values and responsibilities of the legal profession to which students are introduced.

New Interpretation 303-7 reads:

Standard 303(c)’s requirement that law schools provide education on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism may be satisfied by, among other things, the following:

(1) Orientation sessions for incoming students;
(2) Lectures on these topics;
(3) Courses incorporating these topics; or
(4) Other educational experiences incorporating these topics.

While law schools need not add a required upper-division course to satisfy this requirement, law schools must demonstrate that all law students are required to participate in a substantial activity designed to reinforce the skill of cultural competency and their obligation as future lawyers to work to eliminate racism in the legal profession.

New Interpretation 303-8 reads:

Standard 303 does not prescribe the form or content of the education on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism required by Standard 303(c).

Many find this important but sensitive subject difficult to teach but these topics have been a mainstay in lawyer-leadership programs from the beginning. Leadership courses and programs have already developed methods for teaching these concepts in a respectful and meaningful manner designed to engage students and prepare them for the future. For example, Chapter 17 of Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership is titled “Diversity, Inclusion, and Cultural Intelligence” and combines the coverage of diversity and inclusion with bias and cross-cultural competency. We also include several exercises and discussion prompts in our Teacher’s Manual to assist with these conversations. Chapter 8 of Leadership for Lawyers is titled “Diversity in Leadership.” These issues have always been present in Deborah Rhode’s leadership books but the recently released third edition textbook includes additional material on diversity and inclusion, as well as updated exercises, problems, and media resources.

We note that we are adopting a term we learned from Professor Neil Hamilton. We now refer to this topic as “Diversity and Belonging” which calls us as leaders to seek ways to help each member of our team or group or organization, especially those who have different backgrounds and life experiences, feel valued as a contributing member of the effort. Together we can make a difference as we positively influence those around us, seek ways to meaningfully impact our communities and inspire our students to do the same!

Thank you for your efforts and keep up the good work!

– Leah

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