Dateline: August, 2011, Issue 4

Are jurors biased against ethnic minority attorneys?

The American Bar Association reports that fewer than 10% of attorneys are minorities, with African Americans at 3.9%, Hispanics at 3.3%, and Asian Americans at less than 1%. The rate of entry into the legal profession for African Americans has slowed, and Asians are now the fastest growing minority entering the legal profession (Chambliss, 2004).

Minority attorneys face jurors' biases:

Can minority attorneys overcome jurors' biases in actual cases?

Phillips (2010) examined whether jurors' biases toward minority attorneys would occur when a case was tried live for jurors. Phillips analyzed data of 1,164 mock jurors in real mock trials conducted for 10 actual cases. Each of these mock trials involved a minority ethnic attorney arguing against a Caucasian attorney where both attorneys were of the same gender and a similar age, and had approximately the same skill and experience levels. The evidence and arguments presented by both attorneys also were of equal strength. The cases included 4 contract cases, 6 toxic tort cases, an airplane-crash wrongful death case, a corporate fraud case, and an employment dispute involving allegations of retaliation and hostile work environment. Three of the cases (all contract cases) involved an Asian-American attorney and a Caucasian attorney; the seven other cases involved an African-American and a Caucasian attorney. Mock jurors rated both the minority and the Caucasian attorney in their mock trials on five characteristics: likeability, honesty, organization, competence, and belief in the attorney's case.

In 8 of the 10 cases, mock jurors rated the minority attorneys higher than the Caucasian attorneys overall, and specifically with respect to the minority attorneys' likeability and honesty. Jurors were more impressed with the Asian-American attorney in all three cases involving Asian-American and Caucasian attorneys. Of the seven cases involving African-American and Caucasian attorneys, jurors were more impressed with the African-American attorney than the Caucasian attorney in five of the cases, equally impressed in one case, and less impressed in one case.

These results applied to all jurors regardless of their own race, with one exception: African-American attorneys only received higher ratings than Caucasian attorneys for organization and competence from African-American jurors. Non-African-American jurors rated Caucasian attorneys as more organized and competent than African-American attorneys.

Phillips concluded that minority attorneys face biases, though frequently can overcome jurors' biases against them.

Source Chambliss, E. (2004). Miles to go: Progress of minorities in the legal profession. Report of the American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession.

Source Cohen, D. L. & Peterson, J.L. (1981). Bias in the courtroom: Race and sex effects of attorneys on juror verdicts. Social Behavior and Personality, 9(1), pp. 81-87.

Source Espinoza, R.K.E. & Willias-Esqueda, C. (2008). Defendant and defense attorney characteristics and their effects on juror decision making and prejudice against Mexican Americans. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 14(4), pp. 364-371.

Source Phillips, M.R. (2010). Jurors' perceptions of ethnic minority attorneys: Are we in a post-racial era? Minority Trial Lawyer, 8(3), pp. 1,8-11.