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January 25th, 2021

What Does the Legal Profession Need to Overcome Bias? Bias Audits, Training, and Insight

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BiasSync

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In 2018, the American Bar Association released a study titled “You Can’t Change What You Can’t See,” outlining bias in the legal profession. The findings, while perhaps not surprising, were disappointing for women and minorities.

According to the study, 63% of women of color reported the need to go “above and beyond” to receive equal recognition as their colleagues. Another 67% said they were being held to higher standards than their colleagues. Meanwhile, 58% of men of color reported being held to a higher standard than their white male counterparts, while 52% of white women reported the same.

For their part, a majority of white men—nearly 75%—said they believed they had been given fair opportunities for promotion, but only 52% of women of color believed the same.

Clearly, the legal profession is not exempt from bias in the workplace. In fact, when the report was released, ABA President Bob Carlson said, “This report paints a stark picture of the obstacles that block many lawyers from achieving their potential.”

These and similar statistics have led the state of California to mandate bias training by law for the legal profession. According to the law’s language, “Black defendants are held in pretrial custody 62% longer than White defendants, and … Black defendants receive 28% longer sentences than White defendants convicted of the same crimes.”

According to BiasSync, a science-based solution designed to help organizations more effectively assess and manage unconscious bias in the work environment, the cost of bias to law firms is high.

"By some estimates, implicit biases and discrimination contribute to turnover costs in the legal industry, which have been shown to exceed $9 billion annually in the 400 largest U.S. firms alone,” says BiasSync Cofounder and CEO Michele Ruiz.

BiasSync research also shows that unconscious gender bias is a major issue in the law. Women lawyers report being four to eight times more likely to be overlooked for advancement, denied a salary increase or bonus, treated as a token representative for diversity, lacking access to business development opportunities, perceived as less committed to their career, and lacking access to sponsors, the company says.

Training Can Help

More and more law firms are turning to implicit bias and diversity training to mitigate discrimination. And firms such as BiasSync are tailoring their training to focus specifically on the legal industry. In fact, BiasSync recently announced it received approval from the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism for professional responsibility CLE credit in Diversity & Inclusion for its online unconscious bias assessment, education, and mitigation course. The company had already been approved by the State Bar of California for CLE credit in anti-bias training.

“Overcoming implicit bias in the legal profession is a long game,” says Sarah Mills, an attorney who writes for Lawline. “But as more diverse attorneys join the profession, it is crucial that they enter workplaces with colleagues who have been trained to recognize and confront implicit biases when they inevitably arise.”

But is training enough? Truly overcoming bias in any profession or social setting requires a strong three-pronged strategy that combines:

  1. Audits and subsequent data to understand the level of unconscious bias in the firm
  2. Regular assessments that can provide greater awareness
  3. Education, including “microlearning” that can offer behavioral prompts and “bias interrupters”

BiasSync’s Ruiz says, “a genuine understanding of implicit bias can help firms create more inclusive environments that reduce micro-inequities, increase attorney satisfaction, and protect them against attrition." She points out that the company’s research shows 9.5% of people of color indicated that unfairness was the only reason for voluntary departure from their law firm. Further, one out of four people of color said they would have stayed at their firms if they had a more respectful work environment.

The ABA report indicates that science-based bias and diversity training is a useful tool in the fight for equality. “Using metrics to encourage fairness … will lead the way to better employment practices and greater diversity, which will benefit the entire legal profession and our clients,” ABA President Carlson said.

Ruiz says BiasSync’s “groundbreaking science-based unconscious bias assessment, learning, and mitigation solution” is a huge step toward mitigating bias in the legal profession. Attorneys in California and Illinois will now have access to BiasSync’s “interactive, engaging” coursework “designed to help [them] learn about their own biases and how to mitigate them,” the company said in a statement. While legal professionals everywhere have access to BiasSync’s unique training and audits, only in California and Illinois will attorneys receive MCLE credits. The idea, BiasSync added, is “creating more inclusive, productive, and effective workplaces and client interactions.”

BiasSync. Our purpose is to create more fair and respectful workplaces. For more information on BiasSync – training, unconscious bias assessments and measurements - visit: BiasSync.com

Not just diversity. Inclusion.

Diversity is not just about numbers. It’s about people’s experiences in the workplace. If you’re ready to understand how bias impacts your company—with data to make effective changes, contact us now.

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