Separate But Equal Continuing Legal Education

Guest Column by Peter A. Swanson, Esq.: Peter has been on the forefront of fighting the flawed and liberal idea that Americans should sort themselves out by the color of their skin, focusing on that immutable characteristic, as if obsessing over race will somehow uplift minorities and bring us all together, which is what we say we want. We have been doing just that for decades now. Could we be any less impressed, or more horrified, with the results? I have had the pleasure of working with Peter on this issue in the legal community for many years, and appreciate his on-going leadership. Kim Crockett

On Monday, the Hennepin County Bar Association is sponsoring a Continuing Legal Education seminar called “Attorneys of Color PLUS: Maneuvering Barriers to the Successful Practice of Law.” You may be wondering what “PLUS” means. The course description gives some answers:

This CLE will present issues of attorneys of color who face additional barriers such as being female, mothers (parents), LGBTQI, immigrants or of different nationality, having a mental health/addiction/or other disability, etc. There will be two different types of lessons available, depending on the background of the CLE attendees.  Those who are not attorneys of color will learn from the knowledge and personal experience of the panelists about the specific obstacles attorneys of color face in trying to fully participate in practicing law to reach the result of a satisfying career.  The goal will be to understand why diversity efforts must go beyond hiring to involve full inclusion in the work place. Those who are attorneys of color will learn about how to overcome the obstacles they may encounter while working within different types of employment and non-employment environments, with different types of supervisors/colleagues/clients, in order to move ahead in one’s career….

To be clear, I believe a non-governmental association should have freedom of association. But that doesn’t mean they should have freedom from criticism. It is not overstating things to say that the CLE sponsors will send you to a different room depending on the color of your skin.

My position on such racial separation has not changed since I posted about the “shrimp boil” issue 12 years ago. To review, a number of minority bar associations hosted an “Authentic Cajun Shrimp Boil.” The invitation read, ”This event is for minority attorneys, minority summer associates and minority law students,” the invitation read. “No other guests, please. Thanks in advance for helping us focus this event on networking with our peers.”  It should not be illegal for them to have such events, but they should be criticized for it.  I wrote about the fallout here and here.

One wrinkle in the current case is that the “Attorneys of Color PLUS” event is that it is an “Elimination of Bias” CLE.  Minnesota attorneys are required to take 45 hours of continuing legal education every three years.  Of the 45 hours, three hours must be about ethics and two hours must be in “Elimination of Bias.”  We are not at a point where attorneys must choose an event like the Hennepin County Bar Association’s racially segregated offering, but one day we might.  The title of this blog references the Minnesota Supreme Court’s defense of the rule, saying that there were hundreds of course offerings.  Maybe so, but most of them are from one ideological perspective.  Now, it seems we have moved from ideas to actions in the sponsoring of these courses.

Peter A. Swanson, Esq.