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ABA Group Urges Implicit Bias Training for Judges, Lawyers

July 28, 2020, 8:51 AM

A proposal before the nation’s largest legal association urges states to require judges, attorneys and court personnel to undergo periodic training to address implicit bias, ingrained beliefs around race, gender, religion or sexual orientation that can result in excessive charges, ineffective assistance of counsel, or wrongful prosecution.

“Implicit bias training serves as an important first step with respect to mitigating and eradicating workplace bias as it starts the conversation about marginalized identities,” the American Bar Association’s social justice section said in a report accompanying its training proposal to the group’s House of Delegates.

The proposal, which also urges the medical community to adopt similar training, is up for consideration by the ABA policy making body at its first-ever virtual meeting next week.

Implicit bias is defined as positive or negative associations that affect beliefs, attitudes, and actions toward other people. It can have “debilitating effects” and “decrease the possibility of the diversity of professionals in a given field and the equitable access of marginalized communities to programs and resources,” the report said.

Authorities and institutions under heightened pressure to take steps to eliminate racial, gender and other bias throughout society following the death of George Floyd in May while in police custody in Minneapolis that has drawn fresh attention to inequality and social justice.

California, Florida, New York, Texas, and Vermont are among states approving measures requiring implicit bias training in various professional fields.

Education can go a long way in reducing the “corrosive” effect of biases because so many people aren’t aware they harbor them, the ABA report said.

In the legal profession, for example, implicit bias can result in excessive charges or ineffective assistance of counsel, “condemning an individual to be permanently entrenched in a system due to unreasonable biases as opposed to facts,” it said.

Disparities in treatment in medicine may lead to increased mortality rates, the report added.

“The longer implicit biases continue to infect these narratives, the more diluted the system becomes, creating the illusion that remedies may be too costly or too unattainable to achieve,” the report said.

Litigator Mark Schickman, who authored the proposal, said the effort stems from a California law approved last year that requires periodic implicit bias training for members of the legal and medical professions.

He said the medical profession was included in the ABA resolution because “equal access to healthcare is a justice issue.”

Schickman is the ABA’s Civil Rights and Social Justice Section’s representative at next week’s meeting.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tom P. Taylor at; Seth Stern at; John Crawley at