ABA goes forward with mandated diversity standards despite law professors' objections

The ABA announced its final recommendations for a set of policies that address diversity and cross-cultural competency in law school curriculum.

Professors from America's prestigious law schools voiced their opposition to the proposals throughout 2021, claiming the new standards were either vague or politicized.

Many legal scholars pushed back on the American Bar Association (ABA) this spring after the organization proposed requiring law schools to mandate diversity training for students. 

Though professors' written input during the ABA's comment period were critical of the idea, the ABA moved ahead with the proposals last month. 

Several Yale Law School professors, among others, submitted a letter encouraging the ABA to not adopt the proposed policies. Despite being sympathetic of the ABA’s goals, the professors claim that the proposed policies, if enacted, would do more harm than good. 

The letter argued that the proposed standards are too “ambiguous” on which to base “good legal drafting.” 

Specifically, the professors took issue with Proposed Standard 303 (c), which states, “a law school shall provide training and education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism at the start of the program of legal education, and at least once again before graduation.” They claimed that there’s no actual explanation on what “cross-cultural competency” entails.  

[RELATED: Berkeley, Cornell professors criticize ABA for anti-bias training mandate proposal]

Additionally, the professors also took issue with Proposed Standard of 303 (b), which mandates law schools to “provide substantial opportunities to students for the development of a professional identity,” claiming the requirement is outside the scope of the institution's traditional mission.  

Retired appellate lawyer and professor Stanley Neustadter wrote in a letter to the ABA, “I think this whole initiative, no matter how it’s gussied up, emits political indoctrination and sets a precedent for more of the same.” 

Michael J. Hutter, Albany Law Professor, claimed that the new guidelines were evocative of Critical Race Theory, stating that it is the mandate’s “apparent driving force.”

On Aug. 16, the ABA submitted their final recommendations with few changes from earlier this eyar. The association acknowledged there was a backlash to the proposals, but also claimed that there was substantial support for these proposals during the October 2020 roundtables, and that they received writing from deans, faculty, and affiliates affirming the need for this education. 

In its memorandum, the ABA stated, “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.”

[RELATED: Cardozo School of Law requires students to take course on 'race and racism' to graduate]

The ABA states that this requirement could be satisfied through, “Orientation sessions for incoming students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism;(2) Guest lectures by experts in the areas of bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism; (3) Courses in racism and bias in the law; or (4) Other educational experiences that educate students in cross-cultural competency.” 

The ABA also altered the definition of “professional identity” to say the term "focuses on what it means to be a lawyer and the special obligations lawyers have to their clients and society."

Campus Reform reached out to the American Bar Association, the Yale Law School professors, Stanley Neustadter, Michael J. Hutter, and Yale Law School for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.