Wokeness Is Creeping into Continuing Legal Education

Having escaped campuses, DEI initiatives are pursuing lawyers on their own turf.

The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) revolution doesn’t just affect colleges and universities. It’s already begun to extend itself into America’s professions, by way of professional licensing requirements. The American Bar Association, for example, now has diversity requirements, which it is imposing on law schools. But legal associations in different states are also imposing them on practicing lawyers by means of Continuing Legal Education (CLE).

CLE isn’t a national requirement. It’s a state-by-state patchwork. Some states impose none, and each state that does mandate CLE imposes a different requirement. Every lawyer in a CLE state is supposed to take a certain number of hours in CLE in a set number of years, to maintain their license. The requirements frequently include a mandatory core, often including legal ethics.

And now 11 states have made CLE in diversity mandatory: California (“At least two hours dealing with elimination of bias. Of the two hours, at least one hour must focus on implicit bias and the promotion of bias-reducing strategies”); Colorado (“at least two credit hours in the area of equity, diversity, and inclusivity”); Illinois (“one hour accredited for diversity/inclusion”); Maine (one hour of “Harassment and Discriminatory Education”); Minnesota (“a minimum of 2 elimination of bias credit hours”); Missouri (“At least one of the three ethics credit hours must be devoted exclusively to explicit or implicit bias, diversity, inclusion, or cultural competency”); New Jersey (“At least 2.00 credits must be in Diversity, Inclusion, and Elimination of Bias”); New York (one credit hour in “Diversity, Inclusion, and Elimination of Bias”); Oregon (“3.00 [credit hours in] Access to Justice, in alternate reporting periods”); Vermont (“1.00 [credit hour] – Diversity & Inclusion”); and Washington (“1.00 of the ethics/professional responsibility credits must be in equity, inclusion, and the mitigation of both implicit and explicit bias in the legal profession and the practice of law”).

Eleven states have now made continuing legal education in “diversity” mandatory.Four other states have made CLE in diversity an explicit option. Connecticut makes CLE in “bias/diversity/inclusion” an option for its ethics/professionalism requirement; Florida makes “bias elimination” an option for its legal ethics requirement; Iowa gives the choice of “one hour of attorney wellness CLE or diversity and inclusion CLE”; and West Virginia requires “3.00 [credit hours in] Legal Ethics, Office Management, Substance Abuse, and/or Elimination of Bias.”

States’ CLE requirements usually already allowed lawyers to take diversity classes. But now a significant, and probably growing, number of states have made diversity education required.

In New York, lawyers can satisfy the DEI requirement with ACAT: A Trauma-Informed, Anti-Racist Approach to Legal Advocacy, where they will learn how to “gain an introduction to the concepts of trauma, racism, and intersectional oppression and learn how to create and engage an anti-racist approach in [their] legal advocacy.” In California, they can take The Rittenhouse Trial: Implicit Bias in Plain View and learn “how implicit bias played a role in the outcome of the case, as well as how implicit bias is present in many aspects of routine courtroom process. Attendees will be challenged to take a critical view of their own courtroom practices in an effort to overcome their own implicit biases.” In Minnesota, CLE courses include Diversity and Inclusion: Power and Privilege, which teaches attorneys to “gain an understanding and insights into the layers of power and privilege[;] recognize [their] own blindspots[;] learn more about the nuances of ism’s and microaggressions and how these are informed by our past at both a societal and personal level[;] identify how multicultural discrimination impacts mental health[;] understand the difference between cultural competence and cultural humility[; and] develop skills to approach work and life with increased cultural humility.”

This indoctrination program is partly a grift: Providers of diversity CLE will now get a guaranteed revenue stream. It is also partly a way to extend indoctrination beyond the academy and into the professions. But it is also a means to harass and drive from the profession all dissenters, by requiring many participants to sit through what they will undoubtedly consider hostile propaganda. Petty harassment and timewasting can serve effectively as an ideological screen.

CLE matters in itself, not least as a signal that the self-regulating machinery of the legal world is becoming increasingly hostile to anyone who dissents from DEI ideology. America will not remain free if the only remaining lawyers are DEI advocates, as well as those mild dissenters who would rather accommodate themselves to injustice than forthrightly oppose it. Law will not continue to support liberty if lawyers must take required diversity CLE.

Diversity-related CLE requirements extend indoctrination beyond the academy and into the professions.Required diversity CLE also matters as a sign of the broader radical attempt to subordinate the professions to DEI ideology. America traditionally has delegated much of the work of licensure to self-regulating professional authorities. Enormous sections of state law detail how each state shares in the regulation of each licensed field with the appropriate licensing authority. Law, medicine, social work—the states have entrusted extraordinary amounts of power to these licensing organizations, on the presumption that they will not abuse this grant of authority.

That presumption no longer holds. The Woke already seek to politicize licensure requirements in a wide range of professions, including medicine, social work, and engineering. Every professional licensure process is subject to politicization—which is to say, the reservation of the profession for radical supporters of DEI ideology and the few dissenters who can mouth DEI slogans with conviction. If the Woke have their way, every lawyer, doctor, nurse, and social worker will be convinced DEI advocates, who subordinate their professional duties to the advancement of the DEI agenda in every aspect of public and private life.

Americans must respond to this challenge—and the state of Florida has already begun to push back against the more blatantly discriminatory of the ABA’s requirements. Yet it will require an extensive campaign to remove DEI from professional licensure. Reform-minded professionals should seek to re-establish control over their professional organizations and rescind their DEI mandates. If they cannot do so, state policymakers will have to act. Each state possesses its own laws governing professional licensing, generally subdivided into separate chapters of statutes applying to each profession. The goal Let us ban DEI from professional licensure must be translated into a great many instances of statutory revision in each state.

The following principles ought to guide this overall campaign:

  • The states, using language modeled upon the National Association of Scholars’ Education Licensure Nondiscrimination Act, should ban licensure requirements that inculcate the discriminatory concepts at the heart of DEI and Critical Race Theory (CRT).
  • The states should prohibit recognition of professional preparation programs that inculcate the discriminatory concepts at the heart of DEI and CRT.
  • The states should prohibit recognition of any professional organizations that inculcate the discriminatory concepts at the heart of DEI and CRT.
  • The states should address as their first priorities the legal and medical professions; afterwards, they should focus on professions in which employees primarily are employed by government agencies.

America has always depended on a free civil society to maintain its free republic. The radical cadres’ seizure of our professional organizations means that that essential support has broken down. The perversion of legal CLE encapsulates a far larger challenge. Americans must now use the levers of state power to restore freedom to our civil society.

David Randall is the research director of the National Association of Scholars.