In-House Counsel

House Rules: Franz Would Be Proud…

Imagine that you are an associate at a law firm who is taken out for the “last drink.” And you are forced to deplete your savings, and now you can’t pay your bills, and your credit score suffers — greatly.

Now, imagine that you land an interview. And the potential job has a box on its application that you check — allowing them to check your credit. Ding! So, essentially you can’t get a job because you lost a job, and now you need a job to cover your bills that have accrued since you lost the first job.

Today’s Times does a good piece″>on this experience, and discusses how there is not any substantial empirical evidence to buttress the argument that a person with bad credit is going to be a bad employee. It was timely printed, because I am in the midst of a negotiation with a large entity that wants us to agree to subject anyone we put on site to an onerous background check. I redlined the majority of the proposed language. The argument for reinstating language surrounding past bankruptcy was based solely on the premise that someone with such a credit history might be more likely to commence financial shenanigans. ORLY?!

I attended a private law school on loans. I lived off those loans for three years. I also worked jobs at night to bring in extra money, but those loans kept me in that very expensive school in a very expensive locale. I am still paying off those loans. Further, based on irresponsible choices utilizing credit when I was younger left me with a poor credit rating. So, I am a risky hire, based on my credit, and the fact that I may have charged rounds of drinks at PJ’s in my 20s? Balderdash and poppycock.

I admit that I am not a financial guru. In fact, my wife takes care of our finances and she does a fantastic job. I admit to being an overtipper, a habit from my experience waiting tables. I also spend more than I should on gifts for family or friends. I have to be careful to control my spending habits. I have to exercise self-discipline. I need to act like a grown-up — I get it. But to shun folks who were slashed post-2008, and tell them that they aren’t worth hiring due to a credit score (which score statistically may be flawed) seems barbaric. Actually, it seems stupid, but barbaric is a better adjective.

People who disagree with me will use an argument akin to “well, all things being equal, I would rather hire the person with better credit.” This misses the point, as well as an opportunity to hire someone who might well be a damned good lawyer. All things aren’t equal. That is the problem with credit scores, test scores, grades, etc.  Everyone is an individual, with their own story to tell. Oh, how we lazily pigeonhole people — “liberal,” “conservative,” “racist,” “homophobe.” There is no longer discourse, there is only commentary and worse, snark. “But, Mowry you idiot, there must be some way to separate the wheat from the chaff, right?” Yes, it is called a pair of eyes — reading an application — and reviewing a resume on its merits. If a candidate seemingly fits the bill, bring them in and see if they can walk and chew gum, and file a motion at the same time. If they don’t spew on the managing partner during the callback, offer them a chance to see what they can do. But avoid pigeonholing based on credit. It is only enriching the big three reporting companies, and doing nothing to further the cause of eradicating the unemployment that is wracking our country and our industry.

The Long Shadow of Bad Credit in a Job Search [New York Times]

After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at

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