SJC adopts MBA-backed rule requiring demographic survey during registration

Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020
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The Supreme Judicial Court recently approved an MBA-backed amendment to SJC Rule 4:02, Periodic Registration of Attorneys, that calls for the mandatory collection of demographic information from attorneys throughout Massachusetts during the annual registration process. The amended rule became effective on Nov. 1, 2020.

The SJC Rules Committee solicited public comments on the recommendation from the SJC’s Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being that a demographic survey of all registered lawyers in Massachusetts be conducted each year "in order to gain a greater understanding of the members of the Massachusetts bar for the purpose of offering services and programs to aid lawyers."

The MBA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, which is chaired by Ruth L. Adeyinka and Hon. Robert W. Harnais, prepared comments in support of the proposed change, which were circulated to MBA section councils and ultimately approved by the MBA’s House of Delegates (HOD) following a vote by email. MBA President Denise I. Murphy, who also co-chairs the SJC’s Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being, then submitted a letter to the SJC with the MBA’s comments.

In Murphy’s letter, the MBA noted that national studies, as well as the SJC’s Steering Committee on Lawyer Well-Being, have identified a lack of diversity in the legal profession as a barrier to lawyer well-being due to alienation. Increasing diversity can also lead to practical benefits beyond improved well-being, the letter noted, citing studies showing business improvements in talent-retention and customer satisfaction.

While the SJC had conducted a survey in 2019 that was completed by nearly 23,000 lawyers, the voluntary nature of that survey yielded limited useful data and left several unknowns. "Clear metrics," the MBA said, are needed to identify the best paths forward for increasing diversity.

"Simply put, without demographic data, it is impossible to know the diverse (or lack thereof) makeup of Massachusetts attorneys, and therefore difficult to identify areas in need of improvement, to develop programs to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, and to measure the success or effectiveness of such programs," the MBA said. 

The MBA’s letter concluded: "In light of the importance of diversity in regards to lawyer well-being, the practical benefits to the bar, and the impact on justice, the MBA wholeheartedly supports the proposed Rule to collect demographic data on an annual, mandatory basis. The MBA expects the demographic questions will be as inclusive and respectful as possible, and in consultation with experts in the field. The MBA, and its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, are readily available to discuss and support the ongoing development and finalization of the specific demographic questions."

The SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being encourages complete and honest answers to questions in the new Attorney Demographic and Law Practice Survey now required under SJC Rule 4:02. Read more about the purpose of the data collection and the MBA’s comments in support of amendments to the rule, here.