As chair of the OSB CLE Committee, I would like to respond to two letters to the editor in the June 2002 Bulletin criticizing the bar's recent CLE seminar entitled 'Cultural Competency.'
Mr. Howser's letter ('Has P.C. Taken Over?') addresses the decision by the Board of Bar Governors to support mandatory CLE on diversity issues. Ms. Gruber's letter ('What's the Goal?') expresses strong dissatisfaction with this particular OSB seminar as well as questioning the new MCLE requirement.
While neither the staff of the OSB CLE Seminars department nor the CLE Committee was responsible for the new requirement for mandatory CLE on diversity issues, the CLE Department has the responsibility for providing seminars to satisfy the new requirements. The CLE staff put considerable effort into presenting a quality initial seminar. The presenter for the 'Cultural Competency' seminar had been highly recommended by corporations and law firms for whom she had made similar presentations.
Although there have been other comments somewhat similar to the ones made by Ms. Gruber, the written evaluations received from the April 11 'Cultural Competency' seminar demonstrate a wide range of positive as well as negative evaluations of the seminar and the presenter. Of the 34 written evaluations that rated the seminar overall, 71 percent rated the seminar 'excellent,' 'very good,' or 'good.' Of the 45 evaluations that rated the featured presenter, 78 percent rated her substantive content 'excellent,' 'very good,' or 'good' while 94 percent rated her speaking style 'excellent,' 'very good,' or 'good.' Clearly not all the attendees shared Ms. Gruber's negative reaction to the seminar. The evaluations show that many attendees thought the seminar provided good information on an important topic in an effective way.
The CLE Committee recently discussed the seminar and the letters from Ms. Gruber and Mr. Howser with members of the CLE staff. That discussion led to several suggestions for ways in which seminars satisfying the new diversity requirements can be improved. One suggestion was for focus group discussions among practitioners to explore concrete ways that diversity and cultural issues can be addressed in practical contexts that directly impact individual law practices.
The CLE Seminars department has always carefully reviewed seminar evaluations and used the evaluations to plan for future seminars. The department will similarly use the evaluations of the 'Cultural Competency' seminar, including other comments it has received such as the letters from Ms. Gruber and Mr. Howser, in planning for future diversity related seminars. As with all other seminars, the CLE staff will work to adjust and improve the diversity related programming using the information and feedback from OSB members.
The CLE Seminar department's goal is not only to provide seminars meeting MCLE requirements, but also to sponsor topics and speakers that contribute to the knowledge and professional development of individual Oregon lawyers and the improvement of the legal profession as a whole.
The comments of Ms. Gruber and Mr. Howser are appreciated and will be carefully considered. However, readers of the Bulletin should know that these comments do not represent the views of all the members who attended this seminar.
David C. Culpepper
Chair, OSB CLE Committee
The Board of Governors passed, and the Oregon Supreme Court approved, a requirement for three hours of mandatory diversity education/training. This requirements sets a new course where this bar has not gone before. Should the bar engage in this kind of 'training?' Is it the proper role of the bar to require lawyers to attend 'training' that is politically oriented? I hope this letter may start a discussion among the members of this bar, a discussion that has not yet occurred among the membership.
OSB enacted the requirement of continuing legal education to ensure the competence of lawyers whose learning and skills needed to be updated with the passage of time. Diversity training does not fit within this original purpose. Diversity training is more political orientation than legal education.
The bar should honestly recognize and admit that it has made a substantial change in direction with this type of program. The question that should then be asked is should we, as a bar association, be going in this -direction?
I am sure diversity training will have many supporters within the bar. It is on the list of politically correct items. Does the bar have any business teaching political correctness? According to William Buckley, 'We have substituted multiculturalism for God.' I can imagine the cry from the ACLU if the OSB had required us to take a course of legal ethics based upon the Ten Commandments. If the OSB is going to go leap into requiring politically correct training in order to remain licensed as a lawyer, then at least the membership should consider this carefully before we take that step. If we allow diversity training, what is next on the agenda?
All other lawyer educational requirements are tied to specific learning requirements, such as statutes, rules, cases or techniques. All lawyer education is directly related to the law or the practice of law. The diversity requirement is neither based upon legal training nor specifically connected with the practice of law. Several CLE vendors have attempted to offer courses fulfilling this requirement, but the contents have been laughably devoid of any real content. The Harrang, Long firm recently provided a three-hour session, but when asked to provide an outline of what they intended to teach, they couldn't do so. I do not intend to be critical of CLE vendors, but there simply is no substance here to be taught.
Continuing legal education has proven itself to be a good program over the last decade. It is too bad that political activists on the Board of Governors want to use this program to further their own agenda. I suggest they reconsider this decision or, at a minimum, put it to a vote of the entire bar.
James D. Vick
Although I do not believe in 'mandating' diversity training, a majority of our bar representatives did, and it is a reality. I don't view this as 'the bar' imposing something on us. We, the individual lawyer members, are 'the bar.' Many of our fellow members started working over eight years ago to create the diversity credits requirement and felt strongly enough to make it happen.
It is unfortunate that the diversity credit, minimal as it is, has generated such a visceral response, which in large part may be due to perceived poor programs experienced by the attendees. 'Diversity training' is not about being 'PC' nor does it have to take the form of some 'touchy feely' session or self-righteous lecture with an underlying presumption that we have done something wrong. Rather, it should be as varied and wide-ranging as the people in our bar and the greater community, giving us tools to better understand our clients. For example, CLE featuring litigators experienced in representing clients of different cultural and language backgrounds can offer hands-on training on issues such as effective client and witness interviews, issues with using interpreters in preparing for depositions and trial, preparing the non-English-speaking witness for deposition and trial or presenting racial, cultural, language, gender or sexual orientation issues to a jury, etc. The examples we can find of ways to better educate ourselves on cultural, racial, sexual identity, gender and disability issues are limited only by our imaginations.
For me, learning about and dealing with cultural competency, diversity, racism, sexism, and other types of prejudice is an ongoing process, and a sometimes painful one, but essential nonetheless. My years of representing hundreds and hundreds of non-English speaking farm workers and persons of color prosecuting civil rights and fair housing violations in state and federal court have taught me a great deal, and it is this: The more I meet and work with people who are different than I am, the more I need to know to make me a more effective lawyer.
I do not believe it is possible for us as lawyers to be truly effective advocates for our clients unless we are willing to face our limitations head on, and to embrace the challenge of constantly striving to understand better the community in which we live. Indeed, we have an ethical and moral obligation to do so.
Over the past several months I have watched the debate regarding the new CLE diversity component with much interest and some confusion. My confusion stems from the disparity between who we are, what we do and what we think we need to know - reflected in the many letters to the editor I have read to date.
We are engaged in the people business. We interact with people on a daily basis; we speak for them; we educate them; we translate what they want into what they can achieve under the law.
How is it then that so many of us appear unreceptive to educating ourselves about people? What is so difficult about getting to know more about people? Why should any of us think we know it all; that our small communities will not change and grow along with the rest of the world, that new immigrants from foreign lands will not continue to impact our profession and our humanity?
It would be easy for me, an African American attorney, to say I don't need diversity training - after all I am diverse. Yet there is so much to learn about others that I find I could not and would not attempt to exempt myself. In fact, I cannot wait to experience diversity training. Not only is there a possibility that I will learn what all the fuss is about, and share my experiences with others, but most importantly I want to learn about others.
As I understand it, diversity, true diversity, does not end or begin with African Americans, women, Hispanics or Asians; rather, diversity embraces everyone and everything. I have lived in Oregon since the late 1960s. I have watched my community change and grow to embrace people of Russian, Nigerian and Hmong descents (just to name a few). I am not arrogant enough to pretend that I could ever know enough about any other group of people to be resistant to learning more; rather I have many unanswered questions.
Hopefully, my questions will continue to evolve and adapt to the ever-changing cultural landscape in which we live and work. Hopefully, the diversity training itself will continue to evolve and adapt as we collectively attain more knowledge about the people we live, work and play with.
So, let the diversity training begin. And perhaps those of you who do know everything about everyone will share your knowledge with the rest of us.
Renee S. Moore