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NCSC assists Delaware courts with strategic planning to improve diversity

NCSC assists Delaware courts with strategic planning to improve diversity

In 2021 the Delaware Supreme Court issued an administrative order to address diversity issues in the state’s legal community. More than a year later, the court is well on its way to implementing a strategic plan and recommendations developed by NCSC and AccessLex earlier this year.

Through data analysis, workgroup facilitation, and feedback from more than 40 stakeholder interviews, NCSC and AccessLex identified barriers to diversity such as an inadequate pipeline, the state bar exam and admission, the practice of law, and the judiciary.

“The report and recommendations have been helpful in a number of ways. First, the report gave us concrete proposals to consider and discuss with members of the Delaware bench and bar. Second, those discussions resulted in a lot of detailed feedback, which is helping to shape how we approach implementing changes,” said Delaware State Court Administrator Gayle Lafferty.

By “T-shirt sizing” the report’s recommendations into small, medium, and large efforts, Delaware has already made progress. Lafferty and Delaware Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz, Jr., shared an update with attendees at last month’s annual meeting of the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators in Chicago.

Some of the activities they spoke about include:

  • Overhauling the Board of Bar Examiners’ website
  • Conducting cut score and minimum competency studies
  • Undertaking plans to offer the bar exam twice a year beginning in 2024
  • Creating a DEI officer position
  • Planning for the Delaware Law-Related Education Center expansion
  • Supporting legislation for student loan repayment assistance to lawyers working in Delaware state government

For courts considering a similar diversity effort, Lafferty recommends having broad representation in your steering committee and working groups.

“Having more voices, including non-lawyers and even some diversity skeptics, is really helpful for lively engagement and creative thinking,” she said. “Also, be sure to understand the landscape of your jurisdiction and the particular barriers you face. Knowing where your pain points are can help narrow your focus on the most impactful reforms. Finally, make sure your working groups give you concrete ideas that you can turn into SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based—goals.”

Additionally, Danielle Hirsch, who served as the Delaware project manager for NCSC, recommends leaders be committed to open-minded fact-finding, supporting hard conversations, and working toward tangible policy reform.

“The commitment to diversity, access to justice, and public trust and confidence is never done. This work is fluid and ever-present. There is an evolving need to improve public access and public trust and confidence in the effective administration of justice and the legal system,” she said. “This work is not easy, and not without some controversy.”

To learn more about the Delaware report and recommendations, check out the project video or read the report online. If you’d like information on how NCSC can assist your court with similar projects, please contact Hirsch.

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