For Law Students

Join Now

Diversity is more than our mission statement

Chris Jennison

On Saturday June 11, 2016, the Board of Governors of the ABA approved changes to the Association’s CLE Policy.  For many years, the ABA had an aspirational policy which provided that all entities of the ABA, when sponsoring or co-sponsoring a program, would have diversity on its panels. Unfortunately, in practice, despite best intentions, some programs or panels do not include diverse members of the legal profession.

This failure to comply stands in the way of fulfilling one of the ABA’s four goals – to promote full and equal participation in our association, profession, and justice system by women, racial and ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, and persons of differing sexual orientations and gender identities.

We believe all ABA entities can be successful in this regard.  As leaders in the legal profession, we know we cannot be successful and our association cannot grow if we are not inclusive of all people.

To address this, the new policy reads in pertinent part:

The ABA expects all CLE programs sponsored or co-sponsored by the ABA to meet the aspirations of Goal III by having the faculty include members of diverse groups as defined by Goal III (race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability)… Individual programs with faculty of three or four panel participants, including the moderator, will require at least 1 diverse member; individual programs with faculty of five to eight panel participants, including the moderator, will require at least 2 diverse members; and individual programs with faculty of nine or more panel participants, including the moderator, will require at least 3 diverse members. 

As the sole law student on the Board of the ABA, I do not speak up often at meetings, except to provide a unique perspective as the youngest person and most recent law grad in the room. On this policy, though I wanted to chime in, and below are some of the thoughts I shared.

50% of my classmates in law school today are women. Of my 23 colleagues in the Law Student Division board, 15 members are diverse – 65%. This is the future of the profession. Within 10 years, it won’t be an issue to meet the minimal threshold of this policy, and it shouldn’t be now, either. It should not be difficult to find a woman, a diverse person, a person with disabilities to meet this threshold.

Leaders, including the ABA as leaders of the profession, must make the tough calls. We are the ones who make policy. We should be demonstrating to the legal community how important accessibility, opportunity, and the future  of the profession is to the ABA.

This policy sends a strong signal for my classmates, for those law students who we are trying to engage, that we want them to have “full and equal participation” in the association and the profession. I strongly support this policy in its submitted form and urge your support on this matter today.

Christopher Jennison Chris Jennison is a graduate of Syracuse University's College of Law from Silver Spring, Maryland. He previously served as the Second Circuit Governor of the Law Student Division and just finished his term as the law student member of the ABA's Board of Governors for 2015-2016. Christopher received a Master's in Public Administration from the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government (2014) and a B.A. with honors from Syracuse University in Public Relations and Public Policy (2012). He is currently an extern with Judge Mary Ellen Coster Williams of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.