State Bar of California Releases Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Plan: 2021-2022 Biennial Report to the Legislature

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By Juan M. Villalvazo

On March 15, 2021, the State Bar of California published its biennial report to the state legislature on its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Plan pursuant to Business and Professions Code section 6001.3(c). This is the Bar’s second such report since the legislature added this requirement in AB 3249 (Committee on Judiciary) (Chapter 659, Statutes of 2018) to ensure that the Bar maintains its commitment to and support of access, fairness, and diversity in the legal profession, and the elimination of bias in the practice of law. [24:1 CRLR 287] The report addresses Bar’s DEI efforts across five “pillars” of its DEI work:  statewide leadership, building a culture of diversity, pipeline to the profession, retention and advancement in the profession, and promoting judicial diversity.

Among its key accomplishments over the past two years, the Bar highlighted and attached to its report its First Annual Report Card on the Diversity of California’s Legal Profession, which notes that despite significant growth in the proportion of attorneys who are women and people of color over the past 30 years, California’s attorney population remains far from reflective of the state’s diversity. Of particular concern to the State Bar was the fact that only 7% of licensed California attorneys were Latino, despite comprising 36% of the state’s population. The Report Card concludes with a “Call to Action,” highlighting a series of objectives that form the basis of the Bar’s ongoing DEI work. [26:1 CRLR 113] The Bar also listed its work convening sector-specific Diversity Summits to follow up on and implement the Report Card’s Call to Action; completing a study on racial disparities in the attorney discipline system; and launching the California Bar Exam Strategies and Stories Program, a positive mindset intervention designed to increase California Bar Exam scores for test takers of color.

As it relates to the work of the Committee of Bar Examiners (CBE), the report also updates the legislature on its efforts to develop a diverse pipeline of attorneys by implementing enhanced demographic reporting requirements for California accredited and unaccredited law schools to support more meaningful evaluation of matriculation rates for law students of color;  disseminating a survey to all California law schools with respect to recruitment and retention efforts, academic support programs, and career development services; implementing new processes with respect to the California Bar Exam including a Differential Item Function (DIF) analysis to ensure that the questions are unbiased, and efforts to better train, diversify, and expand the bar exam grader pool; and amending the moral character determination process with respect to the treatment of criminal convictions in that process.

The State Bar reports that it intends to take the most recent law school data it gathered on retention programs and do a comparative analysis taking new demographic data, which the admissions office is now collecting from Bar applicants, into account. This comparative analysis is meant to provide a better understanding of the law school population and enable the State Bar to identify programs that positively impact the retention of diverse and underrepresented students.

With respect to the reforms aimed at the Bar exam itself, the Bar reported that it has developed an outreach strategy to share information with California affinity bar associations in order to diversify the grader pool for the exam, and developed a hiring matrix to mitigate bias in the hiring of graders. Additionally, although the Bar reported that the overall results of the DIF study reported no major areas of concern for the Bar Exam by gender and racial/ethnic groups, the report did recommend that the Bar continue to proactively monitor for DIF in the future. Accordingly, the Board of Trustees established the DIF analysis working group in 2020, comprised of select members of CBE, as well as members of the Council on Access of Fairness, to continue these efforts. The working group is expected to propose recommendations in the Fall of 2021.

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