ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs’ Statement on Racial Inequity

Dear CoLAP Community:

The purpose of the legal profession is to ensure harmonious interaction between society (any organization) and individuals.”  That requires the Rule of Law, equal justice, and equal protection, at a minimum.  Indeed, there can be no other profession for which the words “equal justice,” “racial equality,” and “equal protection” should be more precious than in the practice of law.  Those ideals are the heartbeat of the American judiciary.  And yet, the injustices surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and Breonna Taylor, and others, serve to magnify the truth – that as Americans, we have a 400-year history of racial oppression, inequality, and most devastatingly to those of us in the legal profession – injustice for our Black citizens.  This is unacceptable.

Centuries of racial injustice have resulted in cultural and systematic bias against people of color that is evidenced across every segment of American society:  in our laws, our data sets, our workforce, our services, and our health outcomes.  It is proven that our Black community is disproportionately vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic for a myriad of economic, societal, and social justice reasons.

The Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) has fought for many years to minimize the stigma and bias affiliated with the diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues for those in the legal profession with mental health disorders and diseases including addiction, depression, bi-polar disorder, and others.  We have also participated in the research and written the reports on the positive impact of inclusion and diversity on lawyer well-being.  “Research reflects that organizational diversity and inclusion initiatives are associated with employee well-being, including, for example, general mental and physical health, perceived stress level, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, trust, work engagement perceptions of organizational fairness, and intentions to remain on the job.”[1]

Despite the progress made, we have failed to minimize the bias affiliated with racial inequality and unequal representation in many of our own programs.  We acknowledge that on our own leadership boards, and in our volunteer ranks, many states remain devoid of adequate representation of our under-served populations including Black and brown law students, lawyers, and judges.

We acknowledge that inclusion must guide our behavior and that we must be intentional in our effort to create sustainable structural change at a systemic level.  Inclusion requires valuing collaboration and diversity of thought, experiences, and perspective.  There is no room for division, hatred, or racist views in a culture that values inclusion.

It is CoLAP’s intention to promote good mental health and well-being for all members of the legal community regardless of race, cultural background, age, class, disability, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, transgender status, faith, language, or health status.  To do so, we will explore our own biases and then act to make changes that are necessary to reflect an inclusive and cohesive group.  As lawyers and as individuals committed to helping improve the health and well-being of our legal community, it is our calling to promote peace, harmony, and unity in our profession.

This is a time of challenge and controversy.  But we know what is right. “To know what is right and not to do it is the worst cowardice.” Confucius.  We stand together in our allegiance to promote racial fairness, equity, and equality, thereby promoting lawyer well-being.  Let us be brave.

Sincerely,

American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs

This statement represents the opinions of the individual members of the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs. It has not been approved by the ABA House of Delegates and does not constitute policy or opinion of the American Bar, whose official statement can be found at https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2020/06/aba-president-martinez-decries-violence-against-george-floyd–bl/


[1] E.g., M. M. Barak & A. Levin, Outside of the Corporate Mainstream and Excluded from the Work Community: A Study of Diversity, Job Satisfaction and Well-Being, 5 COMM., WORK & FAM. 133 (2002); J. Hwang & K. M. Hopkins, A Structural Equation Model of the Effects of Diversity Characteristics and Inclusion on Organizational Outcomes in the Child Welfare Workforce, 50 CHILD. & YOUTH SERVS. REV. 44 (2015); see generally G. R. Ferris, S. R. Daniels, & J. C. Sexton, Race, Stress, and Well-Being in Organizations: An Integrative Conceptualization, in THE ROLE OF DEMOGRAPHICS IN OCCUPATIONAL STRESS AND WELL-BEING 1-39 (P. L. Perrewé, C. C. Rosen, J. B. Halbesleben, P.L. Perrewé eds., 2014).

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