Diversity, equity, and inclusion have rightfully dominated the conversation over the past year, especially since the death of George Floyd. In Illinois, we’re fortunate that the Illinois Supreme Court has recognized the need for diversity and inclusion (D&I) education for some time, even amending Illinois Supreme Court Rule 794(d)(2)(i) in 2017 to require every licensed Illinois attorney take one hour of D&I CLE every two years.
The Court used data from the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism to make this change. At the time of adoption, the number of D&I CLEs offered was significantly lower than other professional responsibility areas, particularly legal ethics and professionalism. In the first two years of this rule change, the Commission approved 2,015 D&I courses throughout Illinois, a 72% increase in course approvals over the previous two-year reporting period.
While D&I training is important, it’s not lost on us that one hour of CLE every two years isn’t going to solve the D&I challenges in the legal profession. That said, by changing the Illinois Supreme Court Rule, the Court signaled that it wants the Illinois legal profession to prioritize effective D&I CLE.
As lawyers, we typically gravitate toward CLE focused on caselaw updates and law changes in the substantive area(s) we practice. But D&I CLE is different — it takes us outside of our comfortable, substantive practice areas and provides an opportunity for both personal and professional growth.
This year, instead of just picking the first D&I CLE you see, I encourage you to take the time to consider three questions to find the one that best meets your needs.
Three Questions to Consider
Are you getting the most out of your 60 minutes of CLE? Here’s how to find out: if you can answer “yes” to the three questions below, you are on your way to an effective D&I CLE.
1. Does the training address unanswered questions? If you don’t first define the issue, it’s more difficult to know what training is needed. Therefore, if you are part of a team that’s putting on a D&I CLE for your firm, first ask, “What’s the problem that needs to be solved?”
Surveys, focus groups, and other employee audits are great ways to gather information on internal challenges that can be addressed during the training. Participants will be able to relate to the information and better understand how it impacts the people they work with and care about. Form a D&I working group at your organization to start developing the scope for an assessment.
Self-assessment is vital, especially if you’re taking a CLE on your own or are part of a smaller firm. Ask yourself some questions to uncover what you’d like to learn more about in a CLE, such as, “Why were people marching in protest this summer” or “What are microaggressions and why do I need to know about them?” If you don’t know what questions to ask, a good place to start is the Harvard Implicit Association Test or a talk with friends, colleagues, mentors, or family.
Based on your self-assessment, test results, and conversations, you can then check out the MCLE Board website for available courses to meet your needs. Also, don’t forget that the Commission offers engaging D&I online courses for free.
2. Does the training take a different approach? A recent study on the effectiveness of D&I training revealed mixed results. There isn’t a “one size fits all” for D&I training, so it’s important to diversify your approach.
The D&I CLEs you take shouldn’t be the same year after year if you’re looking for meaningful change. If you focused on understanding your own implicit biases last year, one way to diversify your approach this year is to make sure the training focuses on uncovering the specific needs of the most marginalized groups to better understand how you can address those needs.
For example, look for CLEs that focus on how to recruit and retain underrepresented talent as well as what systems need to be in place to set individuals up for success. Research suggests that targeting training to different audiences, re-engineering hiring practices, normalizing flex time, and using technology and behavioral science to reduce bias in performance evaluations are tools that can help recruit and retain underrepresented talent. Effective D&I CLEs will teach you how to implement these tools in your organization.
3. Will there be tangible takeaways? A well-known adult learning principle is the Andragogy theory by Malcolm Knowles. This theory espouses that instructions for adults need to focus more on process rather than content. Therefore, those presenting the training are considered facilitators or resource allocators rather than lecturers or instructors.
A quality educational experience for adult learners will provide immediate value. Consequently, look for experiential CLEs that use techniques such as case studies, role-playing, simulations, and self-evaluation. You should be able to walk away with one or two ideas to implement or experiment with today.
A one–hour CLE isn’t going to change the world. However, effective D&I CLE has the potential to provide knowledge, new ways of looking at an issue, and practical ideas to implement in your personal and professional life. So, make the most out of your 60 minutes by taking the time to answer these three questions before attending your next CLE.