Strategies To Be a Culturally Effective Lawyer

By Jennifer Andrus

January 18, 2024

Strategies To Be a Culturally Effective Lawyer


By Jennifer Andrus

“Ten Strategies to be a Culturally Effective Lawyer” was the theme of this year’s Constance Baker Motley Symposium at the New York State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting this week in New York City.

The Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion assembled an all-star panel of experts who offered real life examples of the steps and missteps we take while working with others who are different. The first element of understanding how to be culturally effective is awareness of biases.


“We all have biases and need to address them head on,” said Mirna Santiago, a DEI expert and founder of Girls Rule the Law. “Recognizing the bias and change it before it’s a problem.”

The topic of privilege can be difficult to understand. Associate Justice Cheryl Chambers of the Second Department, Appellate Division, offered the panel a definition of privilege as an unearned advantage that can encompass more than race and wealth. “Those who have, it don’t seem to know that they have it,” she said.

Truro Law professor Meredith Miller agreed, adding that self awareness is key. “We need to recognize our unearned advantage.”

Interpersonal Communication 

Following awareness, the next strategy involves interpersonal communication and engagement. Not everyone in the workplace is outgoing and it may be uncomfortable to engage with those coworkers. This strategy involves communicating with others especially when it is difficult and not abandoning a relationship when it may be rocky. Working through disagreements or working past misunderstandings takes patience and humility.

“Consider the possibility that you are not always right and be humble,” said NYSBA Committee on DEI co-chair Nihla Sikkander.

Justice Tanya Kennedy took it a step further with a list of suggestions on how to be an better coworker. “Be empathetic, an active listener, be respectful, non-judgmental and non-condescending. Be curious and open to learning from someone, even if you disagree,” she said.

Long Island attorney Kimberly Dobson challenged the attorneys to look at another person’s misstep as an opportunity to rise above it.

“Extend grace to people when they make a mistake, likewise when you make a mistake, own it by saying ‘I see that something happened here.'” When people acknowledge mistakes, Dobson said, everyone can grow from the experience.

Professional Development

When working with people from different backgrounds, coworkers should acknowledge that they don’t know everything about that culture and be open seeing a client or coworker as the expert.

Professional development is enhanced when we understand that change is inevitable.

“You need to be adaptable and be willing to admit when you don’t know something. Engage in constant self reflection and self awareness,” said Justice Tanya Kennedy.




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