Furthering Diversity 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: the pipeline into the legal profession, and retention and advancement.
Underrepresentation of nonwhite groups among California attorneys varies significantly by population. The greatest disparity between the state’s population at large and attorneys occurs among Latinos.
California’s attorney population is becoming increasingly diverse, with new female entrants to the profession now outnumbering males. For people of color, representation among new attorneys varies significantly by racial/ethnic group.
Developing comprehensive statistics on the diversity of California’s legal profession
Early in 2019, the State Bar launched a comprehensive online Attorney Census to develop a clearer picture of diversity in California’s legal profession. The census has gathered data on over 130,000 of California’s 190,000 active attorneys, yielding a uniquely rich data set for the State Bar and others to use in planning and measuring the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion efforts. In early 2020, the State Bar used this data to produce its first report card on the diversity of the profession.
The Attorney Census is ongoing, enabling the State Bar to track progress over time. The State Bar has shared this data widely with local bar associations and other organizations, leveraging its statewide reach to inform and support a multiplicity of diversity and inclusion reform efforts in the legal profession.
Ensuring that diversity and inclusion are built in, not bolted on
Early in 2019, the State Bar submitted its first Biennial Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan to the Legislature, reflecting the State Bar’s commitment to full integration of its diversity work. In 2019, this commitment manifested not only in the externally focused activities highlighted here, but also internally. All State Bar staff received implicit bias training for the first time, with enhanced sessions for discipline and admissions personnel.
Helping all test takers perform to their potential on the California Bar Exam
The California Bar Exam Strategies and Stories Program, an online learning intervention first offered as a pilot to exam takers in 2018, was offered again to those who took the exam in July 2019. While the intervention is offered to and can be beneficial for all exam takers, it is particularly impactful for underrepresented applicants.
Designed to mitigate the effects of test takers’ anxiety about ability, potential, and belonging that can prevent them from performing at their actual skill level on the exam, the intervention builds on a growing body of research on the factors that influence student achievement. In its first two years, the pilot program increased participants’ likelihood of passing the bar exam by at least 6.8 percentage points, with higher impact—9.6 percentage points—among those who completed the entire program. The program also demonstrated significantly higher impact among certain populations.
Eliminating potential bias in California Bar Exam questions and grading
Among the State Bar’s strategic objectives for diversity and inclusion are efforts to ensure fairness in the content and grading of the California Bar Exam. In 2019, State Bar identified ways that diversity and inclusion principles can be institutionalized in bar exam development and grading. In 2020, the State Bar will be reviewing exam questions and grading procedures from a diversity and inclusion perspective, to eliminate unintended disparate impacts for people of diverse backgrounds. This includes ensuring that those who develop or grade exam questions reflect the diversity of the test-taking population and have been trained in implicit bias.
Providing fairness, transparency, and inclusivity in moral character evaluations
Applicants for admission to California’s legal profession must pass a background check and a moral character determination process. Some have questioned whether this process is fair or places undue obstacles on certain populations, for example, those with criminal records, a population which disproportionately includes people of color. The State Bar’s Moral Character Working Group, formed in early 2019, re-evaluated the moral character guidelines and process to ensure consistency in decision-making, improve transparency, and appropriately consider rehabilitative efforts undertaken by applicants. The working group’s recommendations were completed in mid-2020. New moral character determination guidelines were published and web content reorganized to make the process and its purpose clearer.