Email Scandals

Here at Above the Law, we like to provide a service to our readers. Sometimes things happen at a law firm that you just can’t talk about to your colleagues. But you can always tell us.

Last week, we corresponded with a frustrated attorney. Despite the fact that he’s quite senior and has changed firms looking for a better situation, he’s still dealing with the kind of casual disrespect most associates all across the land must suffer:

I sit here today at my new law firm, still disgruntled, I find myself writing a fictitious response to a real email sent to me on Monday by my boss. I actually sent the fictitious email to my brother, for pleasure reading, and not to my boss of course. I thought I would share it with you.

The very real email he received from the partner in question seems innocuous enough:

From: [Redacted]
Sent: Monday
To: [Redacted]
Subject:

Please let me know if you are licensed in Kansas. I have some work that needs to be done over there.

It’s a harmless enough request, until you learn a little bit more of the backstory that this associate just wishes he could explain to the partner…

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We’re hoping the Harvard Law School email controversy has run its course — and we suspect that it has. (But we still invite you to take our reader poll on whether Crimson DNA’s email was racist or offensive.)

Before we close the door on this story, we’d like to give you the background on how it all got started. It’s disturbing — and a cautionary tale for all of us.

Our initial report on this story was missing some important pieces of information, which we did not acquire until later. This post will attempt to provide a more complete report of how one Harvard 3L’s personal email message, shared with just a handful of friends, became national news….

UPDATE: We’ve added a statement from one of the principal players, “Yelena,” after the jump.

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If you’re tired of reading about the Harvard Law School email controversy — judging from our traffic and comment levels, most of you aren’t, but maybe some of you are — we have some good news. Our coverage is winding down. (We do have a few loose ends to tie up, though, which may take us into the weekend or early next week.)

Before we conclude, we’d like to hear from you, our readers. We’ve heard from the commenters, of course — but many readers never comment, so the commenters aren’t representative of everyone.

Reader polls, which draw much larger participation than the comments, offer a better gauge of audience sentiment. We’d like to poll you on two questions:

(1) Was Crimson DNA’s email racist?

(2) Was Crimson DNA’s email offensive?

Please vote in our two reader polls, after the jump.

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Take Our Reader Polls”

Yesterday, I asked why the Harvard Black Law Students Association had been silent on the controversial email from a third-year Harvard Law School student raising the “possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent.” Today, the organization released a statement on its website:

Harvard BLSA denounces racially inflammatory language – The Harvard Black Law Students Association (HBLSA) strongly condemns the racially inflammatory email that was circulated among the entire Harvard Law School community. Like many individuals who read its content, we find the message to be deplorable and offensive. We are open to thoughtful discourse on even the most controversial of views, and yet we categorically reject the archaic notion that African-Americans are genetically inferior to white people. We recognize, however, that this issue is much larger than any single email or any particular student.

Was that so hard? The foregoing paragraph is a pitch-perfect assessment of the situation and an effective response.

The BLSA letter goes on to say that HBLSA should not (and apparently does not) want to be the focus of attention here…

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Plus a statement from the HLS dean of students.

Elie here: just wanted to make sure you all know what’s coming.

Few things embarrass me like the Harvard Black Law Students Association. It could be the most credible foil to systemic racism against black law students. It has instead become a convenient tool to be used by those who wish to ignore the racial tensions in our system of legal education.

Don’t believe me? Earlier this week, we learned that a sole white kid called blacks genetically dumber than whites, and Harvard BLSA backed down — stepped and fetched, if you will — in the face of one solitary white person. It’s not the first time (we’ll get to the tragically impotent reaction to Kiwi Camara later). But at a point when the entire law school world would have at least considered what Harvard BLSA had to say, the organization sought to cover their own ass in the media, instead of standing up on the behalf of maligned black law students everywhere.

I cannot and do not wish to speak for all black law students and lawyers. But when confronted with abject racism, I can find the courage to speak for myself. I believe that gives me more balls than BLSA…

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Martha Minow, Dean of the Harvard Law School — and, by the way, a possible Supreme Court nominee — has issued a statement regarding the allegedly racist email by a third-year Harvard Law School student that has been making the rounds. (We refer to the 3L in these pages as simply “CRIMSON DNA” or “DNA”; please do not post DNA’s real name in the comments.)

Not surprisingly for a law professor, Dean Minow avails herself of the teaching moment that the Harvard Black Law Students Association apparently passed on. She writes:

This sad and unfortunate incident prompts both reflection and reassertion of important community principles and ideals. We seek to encourage freedom of expression, but freedom of speech should be accompanied by responsibility. This is a community dedicated to intellectual pursuit and social justice. The circulation of one student’s comment does not reflect the views of the school or the overwhelming majority of the members of this community.

Dean Minow condemns the substance of the email in question:

Here at Harvard Law School, we are committed to preventing degradation of any individual or group, including race-based insensitivity or hostility. The particular comment in question unfortunately resonates with old and hurtful misconceptions. As an educational institution, we are especially dedicated to exposing to the light of inquiry false views about individuals or groups.

She also highlights a point we emphasized last night, namely, that BLSA did not publicize the email or pressure DNA’s future employer (a federal judge) to rescind a job offer.

The dean’s statement refers to an apology written by DNA. We haven’t seen the apology in question (although we’re trying to obtain it). If you have a copy, please email us (subject line: “HLS Apology”).

Dean Minow’s full statement appears after the jump.

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Dean Martha Minow Weighs In”

Earlier today, we wrote about an email controversy emanating from the halls of Harvard Law School. A 3L at HLS — referred to in these pages simply as “CRIMSON DNA,” and please help us keep it that way — sent out an email message that some construed as “racist.” In the email, “CRIMSON DNA,” following up on remarks made during an apparently spirited dinner conversation, wrote as follows:

I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic.

That was just the opening. Read the rest of DNA’s email over here.

We now bring you some corrections and clarifications, as well as additional discussion — in case the 100+ tweets, 800+ comments, and 1,000+ Facebook shares weren’t enough for you….

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Corrections and More Commentary”

Every time you put something into an email, please remember that someone you send it to may hit Forward. If your email makes the case for a biological reason for racial disparities in intelligence, someone might hit Forward and send it to Black Law Student Associations across the nation.

That’s what happened to a Harvard 3L yesterday. We’ll call this 3L CRIMSON DNA. According to our sources, DNA made some controversial comments about race at a dinner held by the school’s Federalist Society.

CORRECTION: This dinner was not a Fed Soc dinner. [FN1]

After the dinner, DNA felt the need to send an email to a few friends clarifying those views. Here’s an excerpt:

I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair.

One of the 3Ls to receive that email, available in full after the jump, was very upset by it. We’ll call this student CRIMSON OUTRAGE. OUTRAGE arranged for the email to be sent out to the Harvard Black Law Student Association list-serv, including DNA’s name and the fact that after graduation, the author will be doing a federal clerkship.

CORRECTION: It now appears that OUTRAGE disseminated the email, several months after the email was originally sent, because she got into a fight with DNA — not because she (OUTRAGE) was offended by the email.

After that, the email went viral, apparently circulating to BLSAs across the country. There are now plans to try to go after DNA’s clerkship….

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Here at Above the Law, we’re used to seeing funny and fiery departure memos. But the one we were forwarded last night is truly a special treat.

Here’s the set up. The memo comes out of a small firm in the Atlanta area. It was written by a paralegal — we’ll call her “Blaze of Glory.” She had some very pointed things to say about one of the associates, who we’ll call “Attila.” A partner at the firm, “My Name is Pitt,” is also referenced in the memo. All the rest of the backstory comes from a tipster:

I am told that the ENTIRE firm was blind copied when this email was sent. Now there’s only about 20 or so attorneys at this firm, however, the firm also includes about [a much larger number of] paralegals/legal assistants. A few words cannot describe this email; you just have to read the email to believe it.

Oh, this is going to be fun …

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It’s one of the few things still shrouded in secrecy at most firms: which partners have equity in the firm and which don’t. Actual partners, of course, get a share in the firm’s profits, and are part of the PPP calculations reported by Am Law. Non-equity partners get the partner honorific, but in actuality they’re often just glorified senior associates, at least when it comes to matters like salary and major firm decisions. (Of course, this varies from firm to firm.)

Being a non-equity partner can be nice. You generally don’t have to toil on management committees or get caught up in partnership politics, and you may be less personally exposed to financial fallout should the firm’s fortunes sour (assuming the equity partners made personal guarantees on loans). But being a non-equity partner is also like being a stepparent that the children don’t respect. You don’t have any real power and don’t get to reap the full rewards from your investment and care.

Women and minority groups have tried to put pressure on firms to reveal partners’ equity or non-equity status when it comes to diversity reporting. But firms have resisted, saying that they don’t want to stigmatize non-equity partners. Angela Onwuachi-Willig sums it up on Concurring Opinions:

Over the past two years, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) has tried to obtain information regarding the breakdown of equity and non-equity partners by gender and race at law firms. The majority of NALP’s law firm members refused to hand over the information, and NALP eventually gave in on February 12.

The Executive Director of NALP, [James] Leipold, indicated that most firms cited privacy concerns for not divulging the details of their equity and non-equity partnership breakdowns. According to Leipold, small firms especially worried that providing such information would allow non-equity partners to be easily identified and stigmatized.

Well, Delaware firm Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor has revealed who its non-equity partners are, though it did so by accident. The firm’s controller needs a little lesson on the use of “bcc”…

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