old classroom photo students: Over the years, we students of legal education have changed. Have the teachers changed?

Over the years, we students of legal education have changed. Have the teachers changed?

Yesterday, I mentioned a terrific educational program that explored recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Assuming it’s offered again next year, I would recommend you attend.

I tend not to immerse myself in the mechanics of event planning. After all, what I don’t know about that topic is a lot, and those issues may not be of great interest to attorney and other legal readers.

But on this Change of Venue Friday, I do pass on a few notions that implicate the quality and attractiveness of programs.

One of those suggestions I heard from multiple attendees, and it boiled down to: If attorneys have to forego a day of work to attend a 9:30 to 3:00 seminar, couldn’t it be extended slightly so six or so hours of CLE would be available? Traveling to a location (whether in Peoria or in Scottsdale) to get four hours makes the decision to attend a tough one.

I know CLE staff heard that suggestion too, so I leave that to them to consider.

The second issue is a bit touchier, but it is a topic that has struck me at numerous educational events, whether hosted by the State bar or anyone else: Where is the diversity on the speaker panel? Wednesday’s event had none. (In fairness, the keynote speaker is from Pinal County, so there was that geographic diversity.)

I anticipate and acknowledge the fact that in past years, this particular program had some gender and geographic diversity.

So my remarks here are not aimed at one program, but they frame a general question:

As we attend seminars that touch upon virtually all areas of life’s experience, and those programs have non-diverse faculty, how is our educational experience not harmed?

Every one of us has sat through CLEs that touch on all elements of the human condition. The Supreme Court itself regularly passes on the constitutionality of laws that disparately affect significant portions of the population. Can all of those topics be discussed comprehensively by a faculty lacking in diversity—whether gender, race, ethinicity, geography, or anything else.

The State Bar has a real commitment to diversity; it’s even in its core values. And it faces a challenge to effectuate that mission. But for all associations, the pace needs to accelerate. We often are reminded that all associations are in a battle for relevancy, and relevancy is related to accurate and cutting-edge industry information. Our industry is legal, and we count on education that explores cases, laws and policies in a robust, vibrant and diverse way. Anything less is short shrift.

To suggest the seriousness of the issue, I point to a Twitter stream I recently followed as the annual meeting of the Online News Association occurred. As that meeting progressed, I was intrigued by a dialogue that sprang up there.

Megan Finnerty, an Arizona Republic reporter, was tweeting about the ONA meeting, and she retweeted the following about feminist writer Jessica Valenti:

.@jmfbrooks: #ONA13 MT @NABJDigital: .@JessicaValenti & others refuse all-white panels. Individual actions make a difference #mediadiversity

— Megan Finnerty (@MeganMFinnerty) October 19, 2013

So here was a national speaker who indicated a panel’s diversity—or lack thereof—could be a deal-killer for her. She apparently would decline to sit on panels that did not represent the organization’s makeup.

I’m sure some readers will note that the original post was made via the Twitter feed of the National Association of Black Journalists (who are here and here), and it was re-posted by a feminist writer. So doubters may pooh pooh the importance of this whole issue and say, Consider the source. But they’d be mistaken.

I have heard similar critiques from Arizona lawyers—and not just those from the “sister bars.” More and more, non-diverse panels are an arresting vision, ones that attendees connect to a tone-deaf and declining viewpoint.

This week, a colleague shared with me a great article that touches on this topic. It was written by Jan L. Jacobowitz, Director of The Ethics and Professional Responsibility Program Center for Ethics and Public Service at the University of Miami School of Law. And she wisely connects two things that many would keep separate: professionalism and cultural competency.

You can read her whole article here, but it contributes to a conversation about how the quality of education is connected to diversity. And we must wonder: Can we ever achieve (or even approach) cultural competency if multiple viewpoints are not welcomed as participants?

What is your view? Does a diverse panel add value to the information you receive?

Have a great—and diverse—weekend.

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