Continuing Legal Education

Lawyers in Florida can't get credit for ABA's new CLE programs because of state ban on diversity quotas

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The ABA’s diversity policy for panelists on continuing legal education programs has gotten the cold shoulder in Florida, which is refusing to give its state lawyers CLE credit for new association programs.

Florida Bar regulators acted in response to a Florida Supreme Court order April 15 that banned CLE course approval for any program “that uses quotas based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, national origin, disability or sexual orientation in the selection of course faculty or participants.”

The court amended the state rule on CLE accreditation after the Florida Bar’s Business Law Section enacted a diversity policy for CLE panelists. The section policy is substantially the same as the ABA’s Diversity & Inclusion CLE Policy, according to a May 24 post on the ABA website.

The state supreme court said it understands the objectives underlying the policy of the Florida Bar’s Business Law Section.

“Nonetheless, certain means are out of bounds. Quotas based on characteristics like the ones in this policy are antithetical to basic American principles of nondiscrimination,” the court said.

The court order took immediate effect and applied to any CLE programs still pending review with the bar, according to the ABA post on the rule change.

The ABA’s Diversity & Inclusion CLE Policy says the association expects all its sponsored or co-sponsored CLE programs to include members of diverse groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

The ABA policy says CLE programs with three or more panelists, including the moderator, must have at least one member from a diverse group. Programs with five to eight panelists must have at least two diverse members, and programs with nine or more panelists must have at least three diverse members.

The policy, implemented in March 2017, references the ABA’s Goal III to eliminate bias and enhance diversity in the profession.

ABA President Patricia Lee Refo told the ABA Journal in a statement that the association’s CLE programming “is recognized for its excellence. We use speakers and panelists who are experts in their disciplines. Our CLE programs also have for years reflected the ABA’s commitment to eliminate bias and enhance diversity in the legal profession. We will urge the Florida Supreme Court to modify its new CLE rule.”

The ABA said it was informed immediately after the April 15 order that Florida lawyers could still “self-apply” for credit. Under Florida’s self-apply rule, lawyers in the state can apply for credit for CLE programs if they are approved for CLE credit by another state.

But when the Florida Bar’s CLE approval department reviewed the order, it determined that, to be consistent, it could not award CLE credit either to an organization with quotas that seeks program approval or to self-applying lawyers seeking credit for the organization’s courses.

“Florida Bar regulators have stated that attorneys will not receive Florida credit for any ABA program that was not approved prior to the date of the Florida Supreme Court order, even if they self-apply,” Refo said. “Speakers will not receive Florida credit for their participation in our programs; and self-application forms submitted by attendees or speakers will not be approved.”

Florida Bar spokesperson Jennifer Krell Davis said ABA CLE programs approved before the April 15 order remain approved for CLE credit—no matter what date the program takes place.

The ABA currently has 361 Florida-approved programs that remain available for credit because of approval before the April 15 order.

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