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Written in Black & White: Exploring Confirmation Bias in Racialized Perceptions of Writing Skills

Research Question: Given our finding in a previous study that supervising lawyers are more likely than not to perceive African American lawyers as having subpar writing skills in comparison to their Caucasian counterparts, we asked if confirmation bias unconsciously causes supervising lawyers to more negatively evaluate legal writing by an African American lawyer.

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EXCERPT

We first discovered empirical evidence that supervising lawyers perceived African Americans
lawyers to be subpar in their writing skills in comparison to their Caucasian counterparts when we
researched unconscious biases in the legal profession over ten years ago. Since our surveys and
focus groups at the time were studying unconscious biases generally, we decided to study this
specific bias of writing skills in greater detail via the cognitive construct of confirmation bias.

This research summary provides a general overview of the methodology, results and key
takeaways from the study. Please note that we studied this question only from the unconscious or
implicit bias perspective. While the possibility of explicit bias exists, our research has consistently
shown that implicit bias is far more prevalent in our workplaces today than explicit bias, thereby
guiding us to utilize our resources to study implicit instead of explicit biases.

Methodology

Nextions, along with the assistance of 5 partners from 5 different law firms, drafted a research
memo from a hypothetical third year litigation associate that focused on the issue of trade secrets
in internet start-ups. We followed a simple Question Presented, Brief Answer, Facts, Discussion
and Conclusion format for the memo, and we deliberately inserted 22 different errors, 7 of which
were minor spelling/grammar errors, 6 of which were substantive technical writing errors, 5 of
which were errors in fact, and 4 of which were errors in the analysis of the facts in the Discussion
and Conclusion sections.

This memo was then distributed to 60 different partners (who had previously agreed to participate
in a “writing analysis study” from 22 different law firms of whom 23 were women, 37 were men, 21
were racial/ethnic minorities, and 39 were Caucasian. While all of the partners received the same
memo, half the partners received a memo that stated the associate was African American while
the other half received a memo that stated the associate was Caucasian…

 

Tagged:
DiversityInclusive Communications & InteractionsPromotion & AdvancementRace/EthnicityStructural BiasSystemic Bias Interruption in Promotion & Advancement
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