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Local bar associations come together for talk on implicit bias

April 28, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The NYSBA brought together many of the local bar associations for a CLE on implicit bias on Thursday. Pictured from left: Hon. Marsha Steinhardt, Pooja Kothari and Helene Blank. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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The New York State Bar Association’s Judicial Section hosted a bench-bar event on implicit bias that was co-sponsored by a group of other local bar associations in Brooklyn Heights on Thursday.

The event, titled “I’m the Least Prejudiced Person You Will Ever Meet and How I Got That Way,”  was moderated by Pooja Kothari, the founder of Boundless Awareness, LLC.

“Pooja began her legal career as a public defender with the Legal Aid Society where she remained for over six years,” said Justice Marsha Steinhardt, who helped to organize the event.
“During that time, she created a dialogue around racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, old age, poverty and the various roadways and intersections of each.

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“Pooja has spoken at universities, nonprofits, law schools and law firms about how unconscious bias affects our attitudes, language, our behavior and our decision-making.”

There were more than 100 people in attendance for the event that was co-sponsored by various sections of the NYSBA, the Brooklyn Bar Association, the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, the Defense Association of New York, the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, the Catholic Lawyers Guild, the Puerto Rican Bar Association, the Muslim Bar Association, the Brooklyn Brandeis Society and the Columbian Lawyers Association of Brooklyn.

“In the year of my 45th reunion from law school, I can honestly say that I have been around the block a few times and have attended CLEs too numerous to count,” said Hon. Marsha Steinhardt, who helped to organize the event. “But to the very best of my effort, I don’t think that such a collaborative effort has ever taken place.”

Kothari spent the first half of the discussion introducing core ideas about implicit bias. Afterward, everyone split into groups and were given hypothetical situations, based upon real life scenarios, to discuss the intent of people’s words and biases and their impact.

“Implicit biases are those comments that have a stereotype embedded within. You can’t really place it, but you know it’s there,” Kothari said. “By the end of the conversation, you know what that person really thinks even if they are not conscious of it themselves.”

Kothari explained that despite the event’s title, that she had to face her own implicit bias during her six years as a public defender, and even admitted to still having bias tendencies at least occasionally.

“We are all in positions of power and our decisions affect other people,” Kothari said. “They have consequences. We should know about our unconscious biases in our decision-making because even if we can’t see it there are people on the receiving end.”

The point of breaking into groups to discuss the various scenarios was to get people talking about some of the points that Kothari had made and also to point out that words do affect our behavior.

“If we just change our language, we can make a tremendous difference,” Kothari said. “Our language affects our behaviors and ultimately our decision-making. If we can change our language, we can change our attitudes.”


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