If you were reviewing a law students’ memo, how likely would you be too spot errors in there writing?
There were three errors in the previous sentence, by the way. We hope you caught them all. But a recent study suggests that lawyers may be more likely to spot errors in writing — and to judge the quality of writing more harshly — if they believe the author is African-American rather than Caucasian.
Nextions, a Chicago-based consultancy, asked 60 attorneys to edit and rate a memo written by “Thomas Meyer,” supposedly a third-year law student at New York University. Half of the attorneys were told that the fictional Meyer was African-American; half were told he was Caucasian. Otherwise the memos were identical.
The results were disheartening. The Caucasian Meyer received a 4.1 rating out of 5; the African-American Meyer received just a 3.2 out of 5. The African-American Meyer also received more negative comments, and the lawyers were more likely to spot the errors intentionally placed in the memo—especially the spelling and grammatical errors.
“When expecting to find more errors, we find more errors,” the study’s authors wrote.
The sample size of the study—only 53 of the 60 attorneys returned feedback—is admittedly small, but the results are consistent with findings from other studies. They suggest that the legal profession, like many others, still has a long way to go in stamping out the unconscious biases that create hurdles where none should exist.