Center for WorkLife Law

This week is “Interview Week” at my school, during which several of my classmates will be interviewing for associate level positions while many others interview for summer internships. Implicit bias in interviewing and hiring has been an interest of mine for some time, but it seems even more relevant around this time of year. As I was researching however, it became apparent to me that eradicating implicit bias in hiring practices means nothing without an overall system that supports both women and people of color once they enter the workplace and keeps them there. This is how I discovered the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings.

Joan Williams is a law professor and founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings. She is also the author of a book, What Works for Women at Work, which provides professional women ways to navigate people’s gender biases in the workplace. The ABA interviewed Ms. Williams about her book and the Center in April 2016 for their podcast series “Asked And Answered.” You can listen to the ABA interview here.

Among many other incredible resources for women who work, the Center for WorkLife Law houses the Project for Attorney Retention (PAR)—now called the PAR Research Institute. Ms. Williams founded PAR with a colleague in 1999 as a way to play an active role in developing best practices for retaining women in the legal profession. Since inception, the PAR Research Institute has studied and developed model policies and best practices for law firms and in-house legal departments to develop and retain more diverse attorneys. More recently, the Institute has expanded its areas of study to evaluate how compensation systems and performance evaluations affect women in the legal profession. The result of the Institute’s research is a publication of various best practices for law firms and legal departments aimed at improving retention and work-life balance for all lawyers, especially women and persons of color.

The publication, “Effective Policies and Programs for Retention and Advancement of Women
in the Law” is available here. Along with best practices, the publication also includes Q&As with attorneys at firms already implementing the best practices, speaking directly to what works and why. The overall goal of the research and the best practices is to focus on moving beyond diversity measured by a simple “body count.” Instead, the purpose of the research is to identify institutional practices and procedures that encourage, support, and maintain attorneys in a significant way once they are hired. Generally, the research has identified four main areas that, if effectively managed, can lead to greater and more meaningful diversity in the legal workplace and increased work satisfaction for everyone (which is good for the firm and the client): “The Hours Problem,” “Compensation Systems,” “Effective Attorney Evaluations,” and “Work Allocation Systems.”

In addition to the PAR Research Institute, the Center also hosts the fun and informative “Gender Bias Learning Project.” While initially targeted towards combatting gender bias in academia, I believe the lessons of the Learning Project are easily transferable to the legal workplace. The education portion of the site hosts an on-line gender bias training that focuses on identifying and understanding the four distinct patterns of gender bias: “Prove it Again!” “The Double Bind,” “The Maternal Wall,” and “Gender Wars.” According the site: “Although gender bias is a serious topic with professionally damaging consequences, WorkLife Law’s gender bias training website offers a zany, brainy approach that allows you to learn what you need to know, share your experiences, and have fun in the process.” Most importantly, in my opinion, the training provides practical “survival strategies” for addressing and handling each type of bias—including animated video scenarios illustrating each type of bias and video clips of interviews from experts on gender bias.

Overall, the Center for WorkLife Law has inspired me that change is not only possible, it’s happening right now. I feel more empowered as I take the next step out of school and into my career because I am armed with the knowledge and resources to foster progress in my new work environment. I strongly urge everyone to take the time to explore the site (and play gender bias bingo!) to give themselves the tools to be the force of change for women in the law. 

Anne Sherwood is a 2016 Ms. JD Fellow and a proud Montana native in her third year at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law at the University of Montana. During her time in law school Anne is kept busy with her duties as a Junior Partner small group leader for the first year Law Firm Program and the teaching assistant for Contracts I and II. Passionate about her state and the people in it, she is committed to using her studies to positively give back to the community and the people she loves.



Anne - thank you for this information! I have the links saved and I am always looking for publications to further my research in many of these issues.

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