White lawyers may have biases that hurt their black clients, says op-ed calling for more diversity

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Bankruptcy lawyers were more likely to recommend Chapter 13 bankruptcy for hypothetical debtors named “Reggie and Latisha” than those named “Todd and Allison,” according to a 2012 study by three law professors.

The findings may explain why black debtors are about twice as likely to file less advantageous Chapter 13 bankruptcies than other debtors, instead of the generally less costly alternative of Chapter 7, according to the study authors.

The Guardian has another takeaway from the findings: The legal profession needs more black lawyers. “To put it bluntly,” the op-ed says, “studies show that white attorneys might have biases that result in less favorable outcomes for their black clients.”

The article quotes ABA statistics that 88 percent of lawyers are white and 4.8 percent are black. In state trial courts, only 4.8 percent of judges are black.

The article also cites these statistics:

—Black defendants in New York County were 19 percent more likely than white defendants to be offered plea deals that included jail or prison time, according to a 2011 study of the district attorney’s office. Blacks charged with misdemeanors or drug offenses were more likely than whites to be held in jail at their arraignment.

—In 2012, blacks and Hispanics accounted for 58 percent of those in prison for drug offenses.

—In August, at the time Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, there were only four lawyers in the town and all were white.

—Blacks are 2.5 times more likely than whites to file employment claims without the help of a lawyer, according to an American Bar Foundation study of employment discrimination cases.

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