On March 15, the State Bar published its second biennial report to the Legislature on its efforts to further diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in California’s legal profession. The report documents the significant progress the State Bar has made in the last two years in fulfillment of this aspect of its statutory mission.
“As the largest legal regulatory agency in the country and one uniquely charged with addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of its mission, the State Bar takes seriously its role and opportunity to impact the profession in our state as well as the national conversation on inclusion and justice for all,” said Donna Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director. “Over the last two years, the State Bar has undertaken a wide array of DEI initiatives impacting prospective and current licensees, its many partners and stakeholders, and its internal culture. We are engaged in meaningful and substantive DEI work with an eye towards making real change.”
Key accomplishments include:
- Publication of the first Annual Report Card on the Diversity of California’s Legal Profession, which included both key data points and calls to action for legal employers and attorneys;
- Completing a groundbreaking study on racial disparities in the attorney discipline system and implementing robust measures to address its findings;
- Launching the California Bar Exam Strategies and Stories Program, a positive mindset intervention that has since proven to increase California Bar Exam scores for test takers of color; and
- Convening sector-specific diversity summits to respond to report card results and identify action steps in response to the State Bar’s calls to action.
The changes that began in 2020—the global pandemic and its impacts on the economy and the profession as well as a national reckoning on systemic racism in America—have only increased the importance of this work. The report outlines the agency’s plans to further DEI going forward. The State Bar will continue and expand its strategic efforts to address DEI in its admissions and discipline processes and will work with partners to further DEI in the profession. Later this month, the State Bar plans to survey all 260,000 active and inactive California licensees to assess the impacts of the changes that began in 2020 on their work lives and workplaces. The report also outlined the agency’s plan over the next two years to launch a DEI Leadership Seal initiative intended to encourage legal employers to set and publicly commit to measurable DEI goals.
The State Bar’s statutory mission specifies that public protection includes supporting greater access to, and inclusion in, the legal profession. The 2018 fee bill directed the State Bar to implement a plan to increase diversity in the legal profession and provide biannual reports to the Legislature on this topic. In 2019, the State Bar adopted nine concrete DEI objectives as part of its Five-Year Strategic Plan designed to make demonstrable progress towards building a diverse and inclusive legal profession that will produce a fair and equitable justice system for all Californians.