Wednesday, November 29, 2006

This article in the NY Times is fairly interesting. It deals with an article written by Prof. Richard Sander from UCLA law school. Basically he found, and his research is apparently solid, that elite firms hire minority students with lower grades. He says this sets up minorities to fail in big law firms.
The evidence of minorities failing in big firms comes in two forms. The first is that there are very low numbers of ethnic minority partners in elite law firms. The second is that most of the minority associates leave the firm early on.
Sander’s claim is that they leave b/c they feel inadequate and aren’t up to the work in the firm. Critics claim that minorities are given less attractive assignments and less mentorship. They claim it’s not the lower grades that set them up to fail but the lower level of support once they are in the firm.
Another set of critics of Prof. Sander say that minorities are leaving b/c they have more options and are in effect choosing not to “hire” the elite firms. They are moving to in house counsel positions.

This is just my two cents, I didn’t go to an elite law school, didn’t get stellar grades, and only applied once at a big firm. This is based solely on my impressions. But I kind of agree with everyone on this and see a few different motivations for the low number of partners at elite firms.

First, it’s true that if law firms are hiring minorities with lower grades they may not be ready for the kind of work at elite law firms. Elite law firms tend to have a culture that does not understand minorities. They probably are bad at figuring out who would make a good associate at their firm. So they look at several minorities and can’t tell who got lower grades b/c they couldn’t do the work and who choose lower grades but are still competent.
If you’ve only ever talked to a couple black people from Chicago you are not competent and do not have the experience to evaluate the differences among black people from Southern California, Cuban blacks from Miami, or black Dominicans from New York. So I think the firms pick the wrong people b/c they don’t have the experience and exposure to evaluate minority candidates yet.
I had an interview at a big firm and as soon as a tattoo popped out from under my sleeve. The interviewer’s eyes were as big as dinner plates. They didn’t want to recognize that not all Latinos are going to be polished Jimmy Smits types. Some of us are proud that we are still a little pachuco. I may not have had the grades to work at that firm, but the choice wasn’t made on that basis. It was made on the basis of a cultural difference that had no correlation to my competency. How happy could I have been working some place where I had to hide myself all the time? I never applied to another big firm and never will.

Second, I don’t think elite firms are very appealing to a lot of minorities. Minority students at elite law schools are extremely talented and motivated people. After a couple years at a big firm they are smart enough to figure out that they could have more control, less work, and get a bigger share of the money they earned if they dump the firm and set up shop for themselves. Why give a partner a portion of your money so he can spend more time golfing? You don’t have to. Minorities just flat out don’t need the big firms. I see a lot of minority attorneys setting up their own firms.
Going along with this is that when you reach the level of a student from a top law school there is a little bit of ego. When you’re that smart and talented it’s hard to work for other people. I’m not nearly as bright as anyone who went to Yale or Harvard and I still would rather work for myself over the cache of working at some fancy firm and being some partner’s monkey.

Third, the reward or getting good grades aren’t really rewards to a lot of minorities. I realized first year that if my reward was to go work for a big firm then I didn’t want it. I would not have time to work in my community and help my neighbors. Worse I wouldn’t be in a position to reject clients that I found reprehensible. I would have no control over who my clients were.
I know a Latino lawyer who is very smart and ambitious who works at a big firm. He often represents large corporate interests that clash with the working class people of our community. He worked for a national retailer that was hiring contractors to avoid the legal implications of underpaying (I call it wage theft) their janitors who were mostly Latino. Those interests have rights to competent legal representation and that’s his choice, but I know very few other minorities who would find that kind of work fulfilling or enjoyable. I know I’d rather be working for the janitors.
A lot of minority law students go to law school to empower themselves and their community. We want to fight back and help the oppressed. I want to work for La Causa. I want to be a guide in the legal system for Latinos and help them become a part of the melting pot of the U.S. I want to make sure they can access the legal system just like any one else.
If good grades are going to reward me with a job that helps the big retailer screw over my neighbor who works 12 hours every night to take care of his family then I don’t want them. I can use the time I was going to spend studying volunteering or working and learning how to be a better lawyer when I get out. A lot of my minority friends choose to start helping their community immediately over grades. A lot of my white friends choose the same thing for that matter.

The lack of minority partners may just reflect that elite firms don’t offer enticements that are attractive to minority lawyers. They offer money. Speaking for myself, I would rather have control over my workday, over who my clients are, and over the type of work that I do. I would rather be my own boss. I would rather build my prestige by actually making an impact in my community than by how much I got paid. I would like to do justice and not just represent the people that they paid me the most. Looking at other minority law students and attorneys I meet, I think that feeling is pretty widespread in the community.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

There were two things in this month’s Atlantic Monthly that I found interesting/commentable.
The first was an obituary for Steve Irwin. I want to preface this by saying I don’t know anything about him. I’ve never seen his shows or movies or anything. I just have a perception of him as a kind of caricature of an Australian bushman. The obituary was titled “Unfair Dinkum”. It wasn’t very informative but that doesn’t matter b/c it was the title that struck me.
I hope that when I have an obituary written about me it is not titled with some sort of goofy colloquialism. I can’t think of what it would be, maybe some Spanglish thing, “Este Vato es dead, guey” or nineties punker slang, “Rode the last wohl whip”? It doesn’t quite have that whole dignified thing that obituaries should have.

The second thing in there is about creating video games that have more interactive characters. They would be driven by an AI engine that could have life like conversations and reactions to your character. At first it sounded interesting. Instead of talking to someone and having them say, “The princess is missing! No one ever goes in the haunted castle.” you could have a real conversation with the character. This sounded great until they began talking about what they planned on doing with it.
The programmers want to create short sitcom style games. To me that’s not all the interesting. If you look up sitcoms on Wikipedia it points out the fact that there are only really like 10 sitcom plots anyway, not counting the “a very special episode” or Christmas special plots.
So anyway, the first game they designed involved you going to dinner at a friends and getting sucked into their argument. It’s an interesting concept, but it doesn’t exactly sound fun. Woohoo, can I play Awkward Moment again?! After going to an awkward dinner party in real life I always want to let off steam by reenacting it on my computer at home!
My roommate and I started brainstorming sequels like, “Why is my girlfriend pissed at me?”, “Surly customer service rep”, or “Is the boss hinting he’s going to fire me?”
Screw escapist fantasies like drag racing in the streets of Tokyo or blowing up secret terrorist organizations. I want to relive the most uncomfortable and stressful aspects of life in a virtual enviroment!

Friday, November 10, 2006

While I’m waiting for my job to kick in I’ve been trying to do all the stuff I won’t have time to do when I’m working. One of the things I decided to do was to catch up on all the reading I didn’t do during law school. I’ve got stacks of law review articles I never read, I’ve got piles of books on the history of the Court or the Constitution, a couple books on philosophy and justice, and some biographies of famous lawyers and jurists. I found out about most of these books through a reading list one of my professors made. You can find a copy of it here.
I also wanted to catch up on some literature and try and improve my vocabulary. I’m hoping to go through the works of Messrs. Dahl, Lewis, and Snicket. I started with Snicket. I cranked through the first twelve books over the last week. I’ll go get the last one tomorrow.
One of the things the Series of Unfortunate events does that I like is that the youngest character speaks in baby talk and only her siblings understand. Sometimes the baby talk has little subversive messages. Once when the children were caught by the villain of the story the baby said “Merde” which the siblings understood to mean, “Oh no.”
In the last book, during a trial with a bizarre procedural rule there was this paragraph.

"Scalia," Sunny said. She meant something like, "It doesn't seem like
the literal interpretation makes any sense," but her siblings did not
think it was wise to translate.

That’s right, the next generation is on to you Nino! Snicket’s going to take your Originalism down!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

After reading all the articles of voting machines in Florida marking votes for democrats as votes for republicans, letters in California aimed at intimidating Latinos to keep them from the voting booth, the misinformation campaign against blacks in Georgia, and all the other dirty tricks the republicans did I was kind of dreading this election. When you added George Bush’s and Karl Roves’ smugness and certainty about winning these elections I started to get paranoid.
All the conspiracy theories about stolen votes, hacked voting computers, and police intimidation at the polls started to sound really credible. I was starting to believe that the exit polls would be mysteriously off and the republicans would somehow hold on to a majority.
Happily I was way off and wrong. I spent most of the day doing the “Rick Santorum is a soon to be unemployed asshole” Dance. Then I got to do the “Virginia looks locked up” Dance. Finally as I lay panting and exhausted I caught a second wind and did the “Don Rumsfeld is gonna meet Santorum down at the unemployment office” Dance. I’m still doing that one.

As I thought about it and read several op-eds I am cautiously saying that it might have been better if the republicans held onto the senate. There are still going to be a lot of problems investigating Bush. There will be a lot of court cases and they will take time to be decided. It’s going to take a while to restore the office of independent counsel. It might take two years just to get the ball rolling. I wouldn’t mind have the republicans to blame for that again in two years. When the next third of the senate seats go up in two years it might swing a wider majority.
But who knows what will happen in the next two years. If the dems do something about Iraq then it’s for the better. Political gamesmanship can’t justify dragging that out any longer than it has to last. And maybe there will be even more republican indictments.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The current big event in my life is that I got a job. It’s not in criminal defense. You will no longer be treated to stories of people cranked up on coke doing the hokey pokey at the defense table while I try to talk the judge out of throwing the book at them. On the upside I will no longer have to refer to the coked up monkey dancing fucker as “my client”.
I’m going to be doing family law. I hope I’ll have lots of stories about how stupid the spouse on the other side is. I’m going to be working at a non-profit, which is good b/c I’ll be able to help people who actually need it. One of the ideas I came into law school with, and the one that actually got a lot stronger, is that rich folks don’t need any more goddamned lawyers. There are two Spanish speaking attorneys in the office and it’s amazing to see how far people come to get their help. Clients show up from two or three counties away because they need the help of an attorney who can speak Spanish. My Spanish isn’t very good but I hope to do my part and pitch in. It’s kind of scary to try and learn the whole “lawyer” thing while trying to learn enough Spanish to help clients, but who wants to work at some easy job?
One of the great things about working at a non-profit/legal aid outfit is that you don’t get paid very much. The place I took a job at actually offered me a little bit too much money. There is a loan repayment program for people who work in public interest areas but who don’t make very much money so that they can pay back their loans. This helps diffuse the whole “the law is overly complicated preventing the poor, who can’t afford an attorney, from seeking redress from the wealthy, who can afford several attorneys, who wrong them” and “law school does nothing but crank out elitists who serve as the lap dogs of the rich in their attempts to take even more from the working class”. If you say that poor people can’t get lawyers someone always pipes up about legal aid. So anyway I almost made too much money to get loan repayment, but not enough to off set the loss of not getting loan repayment, so I had to talk them down on my salary. It’s a weird situation to say I won’t work for you unless I can make less than $X a year. It’s a bizarre negotiating stance. “I’m going to write down a number on this piece of paper. You either pay me less or I walk away right now.”
Nothing boosts the old self-esteem like arguing to get paid less. It almost makes you want to go and defend Walmart on some wage theft claim.
The best thing so far about the job is that the interview wasn’t that bad. The manager of the clinic where I will work out is a very touchy feely type person so I got a hug at the end of my interview. When was the last time you got a hug at the end of an interview? Hell, when was the last time you got a hug, period? I think that was my last hug…