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August 08, 2019

Annual 2019: Panel to share practical tools to disrupt bias in the legal workplace

Implicit bias in the workplace is still pervasive throughout the legal profession, but it is a solvable problem if the right tools are used, according to former ABA president Paulette Brown, who will kick off a panel discussion, “Interrupting Bias: The Keys to Doing Diversity Right in the Workplace,” at the 2019 American Bar Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

Implicit bias is about the stereotypes we unconsciously hold about other people.

“We see what we expect. We all have blind spots,” Brown explained during remarks at a recent New Jersey State Bar Association Board of Trustees meeting.

Entrenched in law firm culture, these biases are experienced on a regular basis by women, LGBT individuals, people with disabilities and others in minority groups – and are hard to root out, Brown said.

To better understand implicit bias and the ways to address it, the program on Aug. 10 will examine two recent ABA studies.

Dr. Peter Blanck of the Burton Blatt Institute at University of Syracuse School of Law will discuss the results of the “ABA Survey on Understanding the Workplace Experiences of Legal Professionals,” sharing the daily challenges born from bias that are faced by diverse lawyers at work.

Director Joan Williams of the Center for WorkLife Law at University of California-Hastings will offer specific tools to address these biases from her research report, “You Can’t Change What You Can’t See,” published in 2018 by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, Minority Corporate Counsel Association and Center for WorkLife Law.

Williams’ report introduces actionable bias interrupter toolkits to “fix” how legal offices make decisions on hiring, assignment distribution, compensation, performance evaluations and mentorship opportunities, all of which affect the career trajectories of many lawyers.

Moderator Michele Coleman Mayes, general counsel at The New York Public Library and former chair of the ABA women’s commission, will ask panelists about bias they have experienced in their workplaces and what measures they have been involved in to implement bias interrupting processes. They also will share their opinions on practical strategies to increase diversity and inclusion in legal workplaces.

Panelists include Kelly Dermody, a partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP in San Francisco; Carol Steinberg, a private practice lawyer, disability activist and accessibility consultant in Boston; and Joseph West, partner and chief diversity and inclusion officer at Duane Morris LLP in Washington, D.C.

Sponsored by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, the CLE program takes place on Aug. 10 from 2-4 p.m. at the Marriott Marquis’ Yerba Buena Salons 4-6.