Lawyer license application seeks gender, sex info
Some attorneys object, but Botsford says data needed
LAWYERS SEEKING a license to practice in Massachusetts are now being required to provide demographic data on themselves, including their race, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
Margot Botsford, a retired justice of the Supreme Judicial Court who co-chairs the SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being, said the information is needed to tailor programs for lawyers across the state.
“It is critical — indeed, necessary — to gather information about where and who lawyers are in many dimensions in order to inform and guide our decisions about programs and services that will be effective,” Botsford said in an interview.
The 21-question survey seeks information on matters such as sexual orientation, gender identity, race/ethnicity, the presence of children in the household, type of law practice (business, immigration, etc., practice status (partner, associate, etc.), and membership in professional organizations.
For the questions about gender identity, sexual orientation, and transgender status, there is the option of checking off “Prefer not to respond.”
The Supreme Judicial Court, which regulates the licensing and relicensing of attorneys through its Board of Bar Overseers, gave itself the power to conduct the survey by issuing an order last year authorizing the gathering of the information. All of the data “shall be treated as confidential and used solely to develop services and programs to aid lawyers,” the order states.
Botsford acknowledged some people find the questions offensive but said the information is needed. “I think it’s fair,” she said. “I have trouble understanding why, if you are a practicing attorney in the state, you don’t think it’s appropriate to ask you these questions.”
The Massachusetts Bar Association is “wholeheartedly” on board with the SJC’s effort, according to testimony it submitted.
But civil rights attorney Harvey Silverglate is not. “The question in my mind is why the SJC seeks to exercise this power,” he said. “It seems to me to be an example of the nanny-state run amok. This is simply not any of the judiciary’s business.”
Edgar Dworsky, a Somerville resident who is a licensed attorney and a former assistant attorney general, objected to the questions on gender identity and sexual orientation.
“You don’t need an intrusive mandatory survey to establish that in a population of nearly 60,000 licensed lawyers in Massachusetts that thousands will be members of the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “And the SJC committee can’t assume just by their mere presence that they need some type of assistance program.”