Furthering Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
What We Do
The State Bar’s mission includes the express goal of advancing inclusion and diversity in the legal profession. The Board of Trustees has defined the ultimate goal as a statewide attorney population that reflects the richly diverse demographics of California. Recognizing that this is an ambitious objective that touches many areas of underrepresentation and inequality in society, the State Bar has focused its work on the agency’s key areas of influence: strengthening diversity in the pipeline into the profession and addressing disparities in retention and advancement.
The year 2020 brought not only the global pandemic, but also a national reckoning on the brutal reality of systemic racism in America. As the largest legal regulatory agency in the country, and one uniquely charged with addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as part of that regulatory purpose, the State Bar takes seriously its role and opportunity to impact the national conversation on inclusion and justice for all. In June 2020, the State Bar issued an open letter on equality and inclusion in the legal profession.
The State Bar has undertaken a wide array of DEI initiatives impacting its internal culture, prospective and current licensees, and its many partners and stakeholders—substantive work with an eye toward making real change.
Diversity in California's legal profession varies by employment sector. The government and nonprofit sectors are the most diverse, while law firms are the least.
Women, people of color, LGBTQIA+, and people with disabilities consistently report lower levels of satisfaction with workplace experiences than white men.
Sharing knowledge and leadership through diversity summits
The State Bar has captured unprecedented data on the demographics of California’s attorney population, including information about career trajectories and job satisfaction. This rich dataset enabled the State Bar to develop calls to action for legal employers—concrete steps for improving hiring, retention, and advancement of attorneys of color.
These calls to action were part of the State Bar's first Annual Report Card on the Diversity of California's Legal Profession, which was published in 2020. The calls to action formed the basis for two virtual summits on diversity in the profession hosted by the State Bar later in the year. Summits for the private and nonprofit sectors shared sector-specific report card findings and discussed the resulting calls to action. A public-sector summit was held in May 2021.
Doubling attorney training on elimination of bias
In 2019, the State Bar Board of Trustees amended the agency’s five-year strategic plan to include concrete objectives advancing diversity and inclusion. Among those new objectives was one directed at increasing and improving attorney training in this area. Most active attorneys in California must take 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) every three years, including one credit related to “the recognition and elimination of bias (EOB) in the legal profession and society.” Recognizing the importance of training as a way to address bias in the legal system, the Board directed creation of new rules, finalized in 2020, that doubled to two hours the EOB requirement. At least one of these curriculum hours must address the topic of implicit bias. The State Bar is creating a free online course, slated for completion in 2021, to support attorneys in satisfying this new requirement.
Encouraging underrepresented students to consider law careers
The Council on Access and Fairness (COAF) supports the State Bar’s strategic goals on diversity and inclusion. COAF recently expanded its efforts to support the California Lawyers Association and local and affinity bar associations in their outreach to encourage underrepresented students in high school, community colleges, and college to pursue law study and law careers. The State Bar updated a brochure encouraging students to consider careers in law. The new brochure, Be a Lawyer. Make a Difference, is a digital-first effort geared to today’s social-media-savvy students. COAF also filmed an interview with David Kelly from the Golden State Warriors to spotlight nontraditional legal paths/careers.
Mandating enhanced reporting of diverse students in California accredited and registered law schools
Some students of color who find their way to law school leave before graduating, at disproportionately high rates. Why? The State Bar is asking California accredited and registered law schools to collect data that can help answer this question and identify best practices for law school retention programs that support diverse students.
These new reporting requirements, implemented in 2020, call for the schools to submit student data similar to that provided by ABA-accredited law schools. Soon the State Bar will, for the first time, be able to analyze and compare retention data for all law students in California.