Burnett & Williams

Burnett & Williams Co-sponsored Implicit Bias Seminar at the Annual Virginia State Bar Meeting

Burnett & Williams Co-sponsored Implicit Bias Seminar at the Annual Virginia State Bar Meeting

Mahzarin Banaji

When the Virginia State Bar held its annual meeting in Virginia Beach this summer, one of the biggest hits was a seminar called, “BLINDSPOT: Hidden Biases of Good People,” sponsored by the Virginia Diversity Foundation along with several prominent state legal associations and law firms, including Burnett & Williams Personal Injury Lawyers.

The seminar was moderated by Burnett & Williams principal, Peter Burnett, who is the chairman of the Virginia Diversity Foundation. It was highlighted by a presentation by Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji, a world-renowned expert on the topic of “implicit bias.” Prof. Banaji shared wide-ranging research authoritatively demonstrating that most people have subconscious biases that control their actions and thoughts in many aspects of their day-to-day life. Prof. Banaji and her colleagues have developed online testing tools that allow individuals to test their own implicit bias on a range of topics, including race.

In a year that has seen one race-related law enforcement crisis after another, the discussion was both timely and informative. The seminar also featured commentary by legal ethics professor James Moliterno of Washington and Lee School of Law, and Virginia Supreme Court Justice Cleo Powell, the first African American woman to serve on the state’s highest court. Justice Powell, who served previously as a corporate lawyer in Richmond, a General District Judge and Circuit Court Judge in Chesterfield County, and a state appellate judge, discussed the importance of enhancing confidence in the legal system among all Virginia residents. Prof. Banaji emphasized the importance of grappling with implicit bias as a way for democracies to build, “an increasingly just and fair world.”

Virginia’s lawyers are required to earn Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits each year to maintain their standing with the Virginia State Bar, and one participant called the Blindspot seminar the “most helpful and informative CLE” he had ever attended. Peter Burnett was pleased with the strong turnout for the seminar, and praised the intensity and thoughtfulness of the discussion it generated. “We make our living pursuing justice within the framework of our legal system,” Mr. Burnett said afterwards, “and it is part of every lawyer’s ethical obligations to avoid discrimination, conscious or unconscious, in all of our professional activities. This presentation was a very positive step for the Virginia State Bar, and we were glad to be a part of it.”

Burnett & Williams is one of Virginia’s oldest, most experienced personal injury law firms, with offices in Richmond, Reston, Leesburg, Midlothian, Winchester and Hopewell. For more information contact Keisha Robinson in the Leesburg office: 703-777-1650, krobinson@burnettwilliams.com; or Ryan Weiss in the Richmond office: 804-415-4531, rweiss@burnettwilliams.com.