OBA Civil Litigation Section Insider: Unconscious Bias

  • May 11, 2023
  • Adil Abdulla

For those who have never heard the term, unconscious bias is defined as “an unfair belief about a groupCover of Civil Litigation Section Newsletter on Unconscious Bias of people that you are not aware of and that affects your behaviour and decisions”. It is not the same as racism – conscious bias – but it can have many of the same effects.

Unconscious bias takes many forms. Some are well-publicized. Atrisha Lewis explains that female and racialized lawyers are often misidentified as assistants or the accused, and cites research showing that memos by racialized lawyers are sometimes judged as being worse than identical memos by white lawyers. Jayashree Goswami explains that she was treated differently because of her non-local accent. An article in the American Bar Journal cites research showing that lawyers with harder to pronounce names are less likely to be considered for partnership and the bench. Adam Dodek explains the harms caused by mispronouncing names. Hadiya Roderique describes a wide range of unconscious biases tied up in the concept of “fit” on Bay Street. These are all important points, and deserve further examination, but they are only the tip of the iceberg.

This issue attempts to raise awareness of unconscious bias, and to broaden the conversation about what it can include.