Empowering Change: Pronoun Inclusivity in the Legal System

On September 28, 2023, Michigan made history by becoming the first
state in the United States to require judges to refer to attorneys by their
preferred pronouns. In a significant move towards fostering inclusivity and
recognizing the importance of self-identification, a divided Michigan
Supreme Court approved a groundbreaking new rule. This rule allows
attorneys to include their preferred forms of address or pronouns in the
captions of court documents and mandates judges to use those terms “or
other respectful means” when referring to these attorneys, either in court
or within legal documents. With a 5-2 majority vote, this rule is set to take
effect on January 1, 2024.

The decision represents a watershed moment in the ongoing
conversation about gender identity and inclusion within the legal
profession and the broader society. It reflects a growing recognition that
respecting individuals’ pronoun preferences is a fundamental aspect of
acknowledging their identity and dignity.

Navigating Diverse Pronoun Preferences in the Legal Profession

In the legal profession, where adherence to precise language and
terminology is paramount, this rule change signifies a significant shift.
Attorneys and judges are now expected to be sensitive to the pronoun
preferences of their colleagues and clients. This requirement aligns with
the broader societal trend of recognizing and accommodating diverse
gender identities.

Specifically, the text of the new rule is as follows:

“Parties and attorneys may also include Ms., Mr., or Mx. as a preferred
form of address and one of the following personal pronouns in the
name section of the caption: he/him/his, she/her/hers, or
they/them/theirs. Courts must use the individual’s name, the
designated salutation or personal pronouns, or other respectful means
that are not inconsistent with the individual’s designated salutation or
personal pronouns when addressing, referring to, or identifying the
party or attorney, either orally or in writing.” 1

However, it is worth noting that the decision was not without controversy. The 5-2 split among the justices highlights the polarized opinions on this
issue. Dissenting judges raised concerns about the risks of alienating those who disagree with the change and the impact of the decision as possibly diminishing the courts’ legitimacy.

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  1. https://www.courts.michigan.gov/siteassets/rules-instructions-administrative-orders/proposed-and-recently-adopted-orders-on-admin-matters/adopted-orders/2022-03_2023-09-27_formor_amdmcr1.109.pdf ↩︎