Minority Issues

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are well accustomed to the concept of diversity. San Franciscans embrace it. They live among and celebrate people of every race, ethnicity and nationality. They embrace every sexual orientation. And they welcome political persuasions spanning the gamut from socialist to liberal. Ah, life’s infinite diversity.

I’ve mentioned before that when I snorkeled in the Cayman Islands, I was amazed at the vast number of different species of fish. When I go to a favorite deli or café, I’m reluctant to order “the usual,” however much I might enjoy it, because I’ve always believed that variety is good. The concepts of variety and diversity present themselves to us every day.

Diversity is also an important concept for law firms, especially smaller law firms and boutiques. And this is true of “diversity” in a variety of contexts, some of which are not so obvious….

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Who wants to do some document review?

We’re entering on-campus interviewing season. If you’re a law student going through OCI, or if you’re a lawyer involved in your firm’s recruiting process, be sure to check out Above the Law’s new law student career center, a repository job search resources, and our law firm directory, where law firms get letter grades in different categories.

One area that interviewees are always interested in is diversity. Diverse attorneys — okay, that’s a bad way of putting it — minority attorneys want to know where they’ll feel welcome. Even lawyers who aren’t minorities want workplaces that are open and inclusive. And corporate clients are increasingly keen on sending their work to firms that show a commitment to diversity.

So which Biglaw firms are the biggest on diversity? Let’s check out the latest rankings….

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It’s pretty well established that the people running Thomas M. Cooley Law School have no sense of shame. They invented their own stupid law school rankings and then had the audacity to rank themselves #2. They’re already the second-biggest law school in the nation, but they’re opening another campus, this time in Florida. Cooley really doesn’t care what you think (or what the graduates who are suing them think), so long as there are enough prospective law students to fill their incoming class.

As we mentioned in Morning Docket, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) did a big article this weekend about law schools that are taking a thoughtful approach to class size given the challenging legal job market. In the article, Cooley evidently didn’t mind looking like the thoughtless school that does what it wants and dares somebody to stop them.

Again, if you know Cooley’s history, that’s to be expected. It’s just their hypocrisy can be a little hard to swallow…

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If you’re like me, you’re happily ensconced (hmm, where have I seen that before…?) in your company’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Your company may have a Diversity Committee in place and may have implemented diverse hiring and retention practices. They may hold trainings and events intended to promote awareness. Your legal department may even encourage outside counsel to staff minority and women attorneys on matters. All good stuff.

What else is there? Last week, I attended a day-long regional meeting for a fantastic nonprofit diversity organization. Although the fees to attend their conferences and meetings (which include CLE) are hundreds of dollars, in-house counsel get to attend them for free. You just need to pay a $59 shipping and handling fee. Wait, scratch that last part. (Been watching way too many infomercials lately.)

So, which organization was this, and what great tips did I leave with on how in-house counsel can further their companies’ diversity initiatives?

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Imagine you are driving down the street, and you see the police brutalizing a person already in handcuffs. Do you stop and tell the cop to stop?

I wouldn’t. I’d talk smack to the other passengers in the car, and maybe even blog about it, but there’s no way I’d stop my car and confront the officer. Why? Because I wouldn’t want what Michael and Evelyn Warren claim happened to them to happen to me.

The Warrens are both lawyers, and they claim that after stopping to criticize a police office for hitting a man in handcuffs, the officer punched them. Both of them….

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The Dewey debacle is unfolding in real time on this and other sites. People’s lives are being shattered as a firm gets shuttered. It is not the first, and certainly not the last, time that a major law firm with thousands of employees will disappear into so much ether. I look back on my OCI days, and can rattle off several former NYC firms that have either merged into unrecognizability, or disappeared like Dewey is in the process of doing.

Likewise, not far from where I now sit, is the shell of Eastman Kodak — a company that built a large part of this town, and will likely become a shameful case study in the annals of business school textbooks. And yesterday, news went out that my own company is beginning another round of VRIF severance offers.

Regardless of whether you are sitting comfortably in-house, collecting pay from Biglaw, or wondering how in Hell you’re going to find a summer job, news like that mentioned above is disquieting. The main reason is that there isn’t anything that can be done. One day you’re employed, and then, well, you may not be. And there is really no place for schadenfreude in a “there but for the grace of God” economy. Careers can be dissolved as quickly as Dewey.

So, when you are forced to enter an applicant pool of thousands of other attorneys looking for a break in a seemingly unsolvable code of hiring, what can you do to set yourself apart? One possible strategy that has become a hot button issue in the past days is to claim minority status on your application. The obvious dilemma that you face as applicant number two thousand twenty-eight is whether to check such status if your lineage may or may not support the claim….

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Scott Greenfield aptly summed things up on Twitter: “Mark O’Mara launches website/blog/twitter on behalf of George Zimmerman. http://gzlegalcase.com What could possibly go wrong?”

Indeed. After shutting down George Zimmerman’s website, his attorneys have launched their own that is designed to “provide a voice for Mr. Zimmerman.”

And raise money for his legal defense, of course.

I suppose in today’s world, you hire a lawyer to defend you in a court of law, and in the court of public opinion…

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The New York Post just gave me the key to making millions of dollars. All I have to do is convince Breaking Media to fire me. Then I can say that I was fired for being an overweight African-American, and use all of the derisive comments I’ve received as evidence.

Profit!

Hey, I’d just be following the strategy laid out by Earl Brown, a former AIG lawyer who claims he was discriminated against because his boss kept making Fat Albert jokes about him.

Would that the worst I heard in a given day was “hey, hey, hey”….

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Last Wednesday, we reported on Baylor Law School’s inadvertent release of personal academic information for its entire admitted class — names, addresses, GPAs, LSAT scores, and scholarship offers. Last Friday, my colleague Elie Mystal used this data to argue in defense of affirmative action.

We believe in offering a wide range of perspectives here at Above the Law. That’s one thing that’s nice about having four full-time writer/editors — myself, Elie, Staci Zaretsky, Chris Danzig — and about a dozen outside columnists.

Today we bring you a different viewpoint on the Baylor law admissions data. Prominent lawyer and blogger Ted Frank, previously profiled in these pages for his work in the class-action area, uses the same data to argue against affirmative action.

Let’s hear what he has to say, shall we?

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On Wednesday, we reported on Baylor Law School accidentally releasing personal academic information for its entire admitted class. It was a massive screw-up, and on Wednesday, we showed you the GPA and LSAT scores for Baylor’s admitted students (with the students’ names redacted, of course).

But there were other fields available in the accidentally released spreadsheet, including racial categorizations for each student and scholarship information. I didn’t include the race field earlier this week because, frankly, I didn’t want the entire news story (of the screw-up) to be overrun by a discussion about race and affirmative action.

But, look, I ain’t afraid of you people. Getting a complete racial breakdown of the class to go along with their grades and LSAT scores is a look inside the law school admissions process that we don’t often get to see.

So, let’s play our game. Looking at the Baylor numbers, you can see the affirmative action “bump” in LSAT scores, and to my eyes, it really shows how foolish the opponents of affirmative action really are….

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