By |Published On: April 8th, 2021|Categories: Uncategorized|

Hyposurveillance: Don’t Be A Victim

Your annual performance review is tomorrow. You are assessing your prior year’s performance, and are jogging your memory for accomplishments that make you stand out among your superlative colleagues.

So what did you do last year? You “went to the mat” for your law firm by going to diversity events, interviewing diverse candidates, participating in diversity initiatives and supporting your colleagues, who are also Black attorneys in Big Law, cope with the anxiety and trauma of their Big Law experiences.

However, you notice that you did not get the chance to write that client alert that you were looking to author. It would have been the esoterica of esoterica, and you would have been proud. You were also not a part of that litigation or M&A deal that was in the Wall Street Journal. You also notice that while your colleagues made double bonus, you barely made, or did not make enough hours for bonus.

Does any of this sound familiar? If so, you may very well be the victim of the hyper-surveillance / hypo-surveillance phenomenon plaguing Black attorneys and other underrepresented groups in the Big Law community.

What Are Hypo-Surveillance and Hyper-Surveillance?

At their core, hypo-surveillance and hyper-surveillance can be described as manifestations of microaggressions (see our prior discussion of microaggressions here). When an institution’s (and its members) actions and inaction–whether consciously or unconsciously–result in the large-scale neglect of the Black attorney population, these actions and inactions can be said to constitute “hypo-surveillance.” For example, when picking a team of attorneys to represent the firm at an important event, the unconscious bias that leads to the exclusion of any Black attorneys at this event is a form of hypo-surveillance.

Contrast that example with a Big Law firm’s diversity efforts. When Big Law firms focus on attracting more diverse candidates to the firm, or promoting their existing diversity, the very first people that are thought of, and leveraged, are the diverse attorneys. Hence, the term “hyper-surveillance.”

You might argue that this phenomenon is a necessary consequence of the lack of diversity in Big Law. Without sufficient diversity, the few diverse attorneys available to a Big Law firm need to be–in the context of diversity–relied on and emphasized more than would be the case than if there were greater diversity. Inevitably, the time devoted to diversity effort leads to a huge opportunity cost: chances to engage in meaningful networking and learning opportunities necessary for advancement. You might also argue that there is a “crowd-out” effect: with only a limited number of hours in a day, devoting a certain amount of time each day to diversity pushes other opportunities off of your career “plate.”

How Do You Avoid Becoming the Victim of Hypo-Surveillance?

Let’s assume, for the moment, that you are able to cope with the hyper-surveillance to which you may be subject–we will deal with this topic in a future blog post. For now, you would like to focus on the biggest impediment to your future success in Big Law: that outside of the realm of diversity, you are neglected.

There are at least three ways you can avoid becoming the victim of hypo-surveillance:

  1. Embrace your value. Respectfully decline to participate in diversity events if it will result in a crowd-out effect or you have other serious reasons to do so. A simple message to the effect of “Thank you for the opportunity to represent the firm at this event. I must respectfully decline to participate, as there are quite a few billable matters that I must see to completion. Please do not hesitate to contact me if similar future opportunities arise.”
  2. Connect. Find support networks and mentors within and outside of your firm. These support networks and mentors will help you navigate the pitfalls that befall those who are unaware of the hyper-surveillance / hypo-surveillance phenomenon in Big Law, and much more. For example, you can start a forum on Black at Big Law and develop a close network of your peers to discuss life at Big Law.
  3. Speak up. During your performance evaluation, shine the light on the hyper-surveillance / hypo-surveillance phenomenon. Express your interest in doing more of the work that will make you the rock star you were meant to be.

You now have your marching orders. At the same time, of course, you realize your colleagues are going through the same thing. And now it’s time for you to support them. So please stop reading this and go support. Go. Go. Support.

For feedback on this blog post, or if you would like to reach out for other potential ideas, do not hesitate to reach out to us at

About the Author: Oscar

Oscar is the founder of Black at Big Law, a resource devoted to promoting anti-racism in the Big Law community.