The American Bar Association (ABA) will mandate that law schools provide anti-bias training to students including lessons on racism and cross-cultural competency. The changes may go into effect as soon as the upcoming academic school year.
Discussion of the need for anti-bias education in law schools began in the 2020 protest movement following the murder of George Floyd. The movement sparked a racial reckoning across a range of institutions, with corporations and law firms pledging to take racism more seriously.
“Both individually and collectively, we’ve seen the private sector step up in response to racial injustice and inequity and we’re seeing meaningful progress,” said Doug McMillion, president and CEO of Walmart. “One of the reasons for the progress we’re seeing is because company commitments and initiatives are being driven at the CEO level.”
Major law firms echoed those sentiments. “Words are not enough,” said Brad Karp, chair of Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison. “We need to stand up to racism in all its forms. We need to take action, we need to demand accountability and, above all else, we need to achieve racial justice.”
The ABA started considering an anti-bias mandate in legal education in June of 2020, when 150 law deans signed a letter urging the body to make anti-racism education a requirement for law school accreditation. Hulett ‘Bucky” Askew, the National Conference of Bar Examiners trustee, spoke about how rare it is for the deans to have such strong support for the move. “I hope you recognize how remarkable it is that 75% of the deans of the law schools in America asked for this standard,” he said. “The deans’ expression of support represents the depth and breadth of concern on this issue.”
The legal profession has been notoriously difficult for marginalized groups to break into. Law degrees can cost six figures and jobs at top law firms are exceedingly competitive. Although there are 1.3 million lawyers in the country, only 37% are women. 4.8% are Black, 5% are Hispanic, and 2.5% are Asian. People of color are dramatically underrepresented relative to their national populations. The mandated anti-bias training in law schools could help spur further initiatives to diversify the legal profession.
The anti-bias training could also have downstream effects. Lawyers are overrepresented in Congress, in part due to their fundraising networks. Historically, this has led to white Christians having outsized political power in Washington. The required anti-bias training could impact the political attitudes of future lawyers who self-select into public service.
If the training mandates lead to more liberal attitudes on race, gender, and religion among the next generation of public officials, future political outcomes could be significantly changed for the better.