Mandatory Equity and Anti-Bias Training on the Table Again

A diverse group of attorneys

Six months after an unsuccessful effort to incorporate new mandatory subject areas within the ethics education requirements for Washington legal professionals, the Washington Supreme Court Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) Board has suggested a similar but more narrowly focused amendment that is so far being viewed more favorably by WSBA members.

The MCLE Board is moving forward with an amendment to Admission and Practice Rule (APR) 11 that, if approved and implemented, would require licensed legal professionals to complete at least one credit hour of equity, inclusion, and mitigation-of-bias training each three-year MCLE reporting period. The suggested amendment being considered by the MCLE Board would not increase the total number of ethics hours required, nor prevent legal professionals from earning additional ethics credits on other topics, which would also count toward the 45 total required credits. The MCLE Board took feedback during its Aug. 7 meeting and is asking interested WSBA members to submit written comments through Aug. 22. The MCLE Board further voted to send several of its members to present the revised suggested amendment in September to the WSBA Board of Governors and ask for its support; however, only the Supreme Court will approve or reject the amendment, assuming the MCLE Board presents it to the court later this fall.

A broader proposal failed to secure the necessary Supreme Court approval in late 2019 when the MCLE Board suggested requiring one credit of equity, inclusion, and anti-bias education, plus additional credits in mental health and addiction, and technology education focusing on digital security.

The 2019 amendment received an unprecedented number of comments from WSBA members, most of whom were opposed; however, feedback on the revised amendment is now mostly favorable.

The WSBA Board of Governors on Sept. 27, 2019, voted not to endorse the MCLE Board’s suggested amendment, instead opting to commit WSBA to annually producing and providing members with three credit hours of free CLE offerings—both live and on-demand—covering each of the three topics. On Dec. 11, 2019, the Washington Supreme Court notified that it had voted to decline the proposed rule change.

The MCLE Board had been exploring a new suggested amendment since January, but expedited the timeline, in part, due to the civil uprising across the country and widespread calls to address structural racism in such institutions as the law.

“This year the MCLE Board plans to continue their work to address systemic inequities, by suggesting a single, narrow amendment of the APR 11 Continuing Legal Education Ethics requirement to the Washington State Supreme Court—a requirement focused on equity, inclusion and mitigation of bias,” the MCLE Board wrote in its report on the suggested amendment. “The need for this requirement is highlighted by increased demand for the legal profession to refresh its commitment to address systemic inequities and increase awareness of both conscious and unconscious biases. The MCLE Board believes that this suggested amendment is a valuable step in the right direction.”