Stephanie Tabashneck10.19.17 — At the recent American Bar Association Family Law Section conference in Beaver Creek, Colorado, law student Stephanie Tabashneck ’18, who is a forensic psychologist, joined Justice Debra Lehrmann of the Texas Supreme Court for a presentation on implicit bias in the judiciary.

“Our brains process 11 million bits of data per second with only 40 to 50 entering our conscious awareness,” Tabashneck told the audience of lawyers from across the country.

Tabashneck and Lehrmann were selected to present together because of their unique set of experiences – Lehrmann as a former family court judge and now supreme court justice, and Tabashneck as a dually trained child custody psychologist and soon-to-be attorney.

Among Tabashneck’s key points: On the Implicit Association Test (IAT), white judges demonstrated a strong positive preference toward white individuals, black judges demonstrated no clear overall preference, and, when given case scenarios, white judges with a white preference on the IAT gave harsher sentences to defendants when primed with black-associated words. 

She also noted conditions where bias is most likely to influence judicial decision making, including stress (“high cognitive load”), being rushed or tasked with time-limited decisions, being tired or hungry, and when inattentive or bored.

“Implicit bias has an impact on all spheres of our lives,” said Tabashneck, who has also tackled gender bias in a children’s book, Dream Big! More than a Princess.

Tabashneck’s practice areas include child custody evaluations and juvenile court assessments. She has also worked with law enforcement as a police psychologist. She has presented and served as a clinical case consultant at Federal Judicial Center conferences at Harvard Law School. Her current projects include a book chapter on juvenile sex offenders and mental illness for the American Bar Association (in press) and a “Grand Rounds for Judges” mental health training in partnership with the Flaschner Judicial Institute. Tabashneck is in her final year of law school at Northeastern University School of Law and plans to work at the crux of law and mental health, infusing social science research into legal practice and educating mental health professionals on legal issues.

About Northeastern University School of Law

The nation’s leader in experiential legal education since 1968, Northeastern University School of Law offers the longest-running, most extensive experience-based legal education program in the country and is a national leader in legal education reform. Founded with cooperative legal education as the cornerstone of its program, Northeastern guarantees its students an unparalleled full year of practical legal work. All students participate in four, full-time legal placements, and can choose from the more than 900 employers worldwide participating in the school’s signature Cooperative Legal Education Program. The future of legal education for the past 45 years, Northeastern University School of Law blends theory and practice, providing students with a unique set of skills and experience to successfully practice law.