Along with the Women Lawyers Section of the State Bar Association of North Dakota, UND School of Law recently cosponsored a Symposium on Implicit Bias in the Legal Profession in which nearly 100 people participated.
Teri McMurtry-Chubb, Visiting Distinguished Professor of Law with the UIC John Marshall Law School in Chicago, headlined the event with a talk entitled “The Practical Implications of Unexamined Assumptions.” She discussed her six-year-long empirical study exploring often incorrect assumptions many students bring into the law school classroom based on race, gender, class, and sexual orientation. As her research demonstrates, these inaccurate assumptions frequently lead to flawed legal arguments. But when law schools engage students to reflect conscientiously about issues of power and privilege, the students are much better prepared to represent marginalized populations instead of perpetuating inequities and reinforcing hierarchies in the legal system and throughout society.
In the second session, Pam Smith and Kathy Frelich, who work with the North Dakota Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Devils Lake, provided a training on hearing loss and how best to work with clients, witnesses, and others in the legal system who are deaf or hard of hearing. Their organization offers many resources available to the public, including a publication on providing legal assistance to a client who is deaf.
The third panel addressed challenges facing new Americans and recent immigrants as lawyers, litigants, and others working or interacting with the legal system. Three recent UND School of Law graduates participated in this session: Ifrah Esse, Olufemi Adisa, and Patty Castro, along with former UND School of Law Professor Kit Johnson, who now teaches immigration law at Oklahoma University College of Law. Reis Pagtakhan, a partner practicing immigration law with MLT Aikins LLP in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, provided a comparative perspective. And Cynthia Shabb, Executive Director of the Global Friends Coalition in Grand Forks, discussed experiences of our local neighbors, many of whom have fled dire situations in their prior countries as refugees, so may have a very different view of the legal system due to their previous experiences.
The final program featured trailblazers who have helped pave the way for women lawyers in North Dakota and nationally, who discussed their reflections on challenges and opportunities—both past and present—facing women in the legal system within our state. Laurie Forsberg, Judge Lolita Romanick, and Becky Thiem joined Teri McMurtry-Chubb in a lively discussion of these issues moderated by Professor Tammy Oltz. Their conversation, as well as the prior sessions, reminded everyone in the audience that much work remains to be done in order to attain the goals of justice and equality, including for those in the legal profession.
One of the attendees sent an email message afterwards indicating “It was a great event! Outstanding. Professor Teri M-C was a dynamite opener, followed by informative, dialogue-inviting, thought-provoking presenters. It was one of the best, one of the most inspirational, seminars that I have attended.” UND School of Law thanks everyone for their participation in this event and for continuing the conversation.