House of Delegates adopts diversity, mental health CLE resolution

The Indiana State Bar Association House of Delegates has approved a resolution urging the Indiana Supreme Court to require one hour each of diversity and inclusion and mental health and substance abuse CLE training every three years, a proposal that prompted an impassioned debate during the House of Delegates’ annual meeting.

The House of Delegates approved the joint resolution proposed by the ISBA Diversity and Wellness committees with a 73-51 vote. The delegates met Wednesday at the French Lick Resort, where the ISBA Annual Meeting is being held this week.

Indianapolis attorneys Norris Cunningham and Patricia McKinnon, representing the Diversity and Wellness committees, respectively, told the House that adopting the resolution would allow the bar to make a statement showing its support for legal professionals who come from diverse backgrounds and who struggle with mental illnesses. The diversity CLEs, according to the resolution, would include programming that addresses “all persons regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, citizenship, or disabilities,” as well as the elimination of bias. Mental health programming would include CLEs that address “the prevention, detection, or treatment of mental health disorders and/or substance use disorders, which can affect a lawyer’s ability to perform competent legal services.”

Speaking for the Diversity Committee, Cunningham said all attorneys could benefit from diversity and inclusion training because it could help them better connect with clients from varied backgrounds. And from a mental health perspective, McKinnon said mandatory mental health training could help remove the stigma that might prevent a struggling attorney from voluntarily attending a mental health-related program.

McKinnon also noted that though the diversity and mental health CLEs could carry ethics credits, the new CLE requirements would not be automatically linked to ethics programming.

The proposal drew both strong support and sharp criticism, with those in favor saying the mandatory CLE programs will broaden attorneys’ perspectives, while those against argued the proposal is irrelevant to the practice of law. Several amendments were proposed to the resolution, including tabling a vote or sending it back to committee, but all amendments failed.

After an initial voice vote was too close to determine the resolution’s fate, House of Delegates chair Amy Noe Dudas had to ask each delegate to stand up and be counted as either for or against the proposal. The 73-51 passage came after roughly an hour of debate.

The House of Delegates also passed a resolution on Wednesday that calls for an elimination of the requirement in the Rules of Professional Conduct that nonlawyer assistant be employees of a lawyer or law firm.  Additionally, the delegates approved bylaw amendments that expand permissible law student involvement in the bar and specify permissible involvement of affiliate members.

For more coverage of the House of Delegates meeting, see the Oct. 17 issue of Indiana Lawyer. 

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