Tipping the Scales of Justice: Perceptions of Unfair Treatment in the Courtroom [2018]

In spite of popular perceptions about legal actors operating in a competitive environment, political scientists note that long-term relationships among attorneys, judges, and court personnel develop over time. These working relationships can help attorneys achieve positive outcomes for their clients, increase efficiency in court proceedings, and help enhance attorneys’ professional reputations. But what happens when attorneys have to venture out of familiar territory to try a case? Using a survey of attorneys practicing in a southeastern state, we explore the extent to which civil and criminal litigators perceive unfair treatment by judges and court personnel when practicing in unfamiliar jurisdictions. Are certain types of attorneys more apt to perceive unfair treatment than others? The results show that, compared to white male attorneys, minority men perceive more unfair treatment from judges, and white women perceive more unfair treatment from court staff. Perceptions of unfairness are also generally higher for attorneys with fewer years in the profession, though very experienced minority men report much higher levels of unfair treatment by judges than other similarly experienced groups. This suggests that the challenges associated with working in a new or less familiar setting are not felt equally across all attorneys. The findings have important implications for understanding potential barriers for diverse groups within the legal profession.

Todd A. Collins, Tao L. Dumas & Laura P. Moyer
Justice System Journal, Volume 39, 2018 – Issue 4