Minority Issues

Last year, St. Martin’s Press published The Partner Track, the debut novel of lawyer Helen Wan. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, I praised the book for being engaging, suspenseful, and — unlike so many legal novels — realistic. The paperback edition of The Partner Track became available last week.

I enjoy fiction about lawyers, as both a reader and writer — my own first novel comes out in a few weeks — and I’m deeply interested in how other writers work. So I interviewed Helen Wan about her book, her approach to writing, and how she managed to write a novel while holding down a demanding job as an in-house lawyer for Time Warner. I also asked for her advice on how women and minority lawyers can succeed in Biglaw.

Here’s a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation.

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Kim Kardashian

* First things first, she’s the realest: In light of the ongoing situation in Ferguson, Missouri, of course Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged that we have a “real racial problem” in America. [National Law Journal]

* Cooley Law has experienced legal troubles over its job stats for the past few years, and a great deal of it has been handled by Miller Canfield. It raked in almost $1M from the school from 2011 to 2012. [Am Law Daily]

* Yesterday, a federal judge in Florida struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional. The latest opinion is one of nineteen in favor of marriage equality. The decision was stayed, but yay for Flori-duh! [CNN]

* Half of Concordia Law’s third-year class will not be returning to school this fall because they’d rather wait to receive word on whether the school will be accredited than waste more of their time there. [Boise State Public Radio]

* Thanks to JudgmentMarketplace.com, a dentist was finally able to collect on a a years-old default judgment against Kim Kardashian — but only because a lawyer bought it from him. [WSJ Law Blog]

In Ferguson, Missouri, outrage over the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown roils on.  Attorney General Eric Holder visited Ferguson yesterday, promising Brown’s family and the concerned public that a federal investigation would ensure justice.  If Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed Brown, willfully deprived the young black man of his constitutional rights to be free from unlawful deadly force, Wilson could be convicted under federal civil rights law, in addition to any possible state charges.

Much of the outrage over Brown’s death is rooted in the belief that Wilson responded to Michael Brown as he did because of Brown’s race.  The case calls up a painful history of racist white men murdering black men under color of law.  I don’t dispute the existence of that history, and I humbly acknowledge that, as a white woman, I will never feel the same pain associated with that history that black men and women will.  Even so, I wonder about what in this particular case leads so many observers to conclude that racism obviously caused Wilson to shoot and kill Brown — not simply to conclude that Wilson was unjustified in his use of force for non-race-based reasons, or to be suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the use of force.

How could we distinguish a set of facts where a white police officer improperly kills a black teenager without racial bias from one where a white officer improperly kills a black teenager because of racial bias?  Do we have a picture of criminal violence by a white officer against a black teenager that is wrong, but not wrong for any reasons that involve race?

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I would like to throw a brick at a cop in Ferguson. Any cop. All the cops. As a black male, I would like to fight back, violently, against the forces that have hunted me all my life, and will hunt my son all his life.

I’m not going to, but that is because history is not on my side. I no longer give a damn about the moral virtues of non-violence, but recorded history tells us that an oppressed minority population cannot succeed through violence. I don’t have a magic staff that can bring locusts and selectively drain or flood rivers, and without such a weapon, being peaceful out there is the only effective and reasonable option. I have just enough education to understand that, and just enough restraint to practice it. I believe in non-violence because it’s the only thing that works.

Thomas Jefferson has a famous quote about slavery. He was talking about the Missouri Compromise, which allowed Missouri to enter the union as a slave state (a fact way more relevant to the current situation than Mike Brown’s alleged shoplifting). On the slavery question, Jefferson offered: “We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.” Everybody remembers that part, but here’s the next line: “Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.” Jefferson is talking about justice for the slave, and self-preservation for America.

What America has done since 1820 is to gain self-preservation for itself without granting justice to those it oppressed. It’s been a neat trick. Go ahead, name any “justice” statistic: incarceration rates, conviction rates, homicides, homicides by cop, death penalty rates, drug prosecutions, forced plea bargains, diversity in the police force, diversity on the bench, name ANY JUSTICE STAT YOU CARE ABOUT. You have just named a statistic that illustrates how African-Americans are denied equal justice as compared to white Americans.

Continue reading on Above the Law Redline…

Michael Brown, age 18 and a high school graduate, was scheduled to begin college classes on Monday.

He won’t be. He was shot, unarmed with his hands in the air, by police near his apartment on Saturday afternoon. The shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, a mostly black working-class St. Louis suburb of 20,000, has ignited outrage and skepticism of the police’s explanation for the shooting.

As Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, told Steve Giegerich of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the shooting took place as her son was walking to his grandmother’s residence.

One witness, Piaget Crenshaw, gave this account to Giegerich:

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David Nicosia

Rosa Parks, move.

– David C. Nicosia, a white Chicago resident who argued with Judge Arnette Hubbard, a black jurist, after she walked by him while smoking a cigarette. Nicosia allegedly spit in Judge Hubbard’s face, and later slapped her in the face.

Nicosia was arrested and charged with four counts of aggravated battery and a hate crime. He is currently being held on $90,000 bail.

You don’t often hear many good things about diversity in the legal profession. Women lawyers continue to be told how to dress themselves, and minorities have to grapple with racist typos.

Despite the negativity that exists in the law when it comes to issues of gender, race, and sexual orientation, there are some law firms that are doing their best to make sure their attorneys are as diverse as their practice areas.

Which law firms came out on top in terms of diversity? Check out Vault’s rankings to find out…

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J.D. = Just Debt

* Per the latest Gallup study, Republican approval of SCOTUS is up, while Democratic approval is down. Gee, considering how the biggest cases of OT 2013 went down, no one should be terribly surprised by this news. [New York Times]

* Will our leader make the grade? Law profs wrote a strongly worded letter to President Obama, asking that he not include a religious exemption in his executive order prohibiting anti-gay bias in federal contractor hiring. [National Law Journal]

* Hey guys, there’s a new report out that contains some pretty shocking information about the realities of life after law school. Seriously, who knew that would-be lawyers were poor? Oh wait, we did. [CNN Money]

* Washington & Lee recently surrendered its Confederate flags to appease its black student population. Here’s an interview with Brandon Hicks, the law student behind the historic movement. [Huffington Post]

* “Fret for your latte, and fret for your lawsuit.” Tool hasn’t put out a new album in in almost a decade, and it’s all because of one pesky little lawsuit filed way back in 2007 that just won’t go away. [Rolling Stone]

“Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
– Frederick Douglass

Washington & Lee has displayed Confederate flags in the chapel dedicated to Robert E. Lee since the 1930s… and now they won’t. All because 14 black Washington & Lee law students demanded that the university stop. Those students risked the consequence of potential employers who could and probably still will label them as agitators. They risked disapprobation from those in the dominant culture who still expect black people to “just get over” slavery, racial oppression, and continued racism. They risked time, energy, and stress that could have been devoted to finals or networking or just finding a good microbrew.

They demanded. And now Washington & Lee president Kenneth P. Ruscio has agreed to remove the controversial symbols from a place where students are forced to gather. The struggle continues

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Each year, associates and partners wait with anticipation for American Lawyer to roll out its signature rankings. First comes the influential Am Law 100, followed by the closely watched Am Law 200, and finally comes the annual A-List, the most associate-focused ranking of them all. This ranking identifies the most “well-rounded” of all Am Law 100 firms (i.e., the firms that are “the total package”).

The A-List differs from other Am Law rankings in that only one financial metric is involved — revenue per lawyer (RPL). The other factors included in this ranking are pro bono work, diversity, and most importantly, associate satisfaction. Double the weight is typically given to firms’ RPL and pro bono scores, and we usually see the same firms in the top three. That was not the case at all this time around.

This year, we’ve got a wildly different top three, and a new number one. Which 20 firms came out on top?

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