Diversity

When being judged by a jury of your peers, is it necessary that some of those peers be members of your ethnic or racial group? Hold on, white people, I’m not asking you. You might talk tough on the internet, but if you were the defendant in a trial and you walked in and saw the entire Wu-Tang Clan sitting in the jury box you’d have a freaking conniption. And… it would NEVER happen to you. A white person would never have to face an “all-other” jury. Your opinions on how you’d feel about a situation that would never happen to you matters less to me.

For the rest of us, being judged by zero people from your peer racial or ethnic group is a legitimate possibility. Is that fair? Almost certainly not. Is it presumptively unfair? That’s kind of a different question. Can we presume that 12 white people can’t give a black person a fair trial? Should a judge stop a trial once he sees that a person is about to face a jury devoid of any of her racial peers?

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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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Ed note: Stat of the Week is a new feature that pulls custom data points from ATL Research as well as noteworthy sources across the web.

Which Am Law 50 firm has the highest percentage of women partners?

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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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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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Last week I wrote about the bar exam. This week I am hearkening back to happier times after first and/or second year of law school: fat paycheck, lunch out everyday, the life of a Biglaw summer associate. 

But maybe it isn’t quite the same experience for everyone….

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Would you wear these to court?

* Hmm, somebody didn’t review those documents quickly enough: the City of Detroit’s bankruptcy trial has been delayed for about a month’s time by Judge Steven Rhodes because the parties needed additional time to get their acts together. [Bloomberg]

* The NCAA may have lost the battle in the Keller EA Sports video games case with its $20 million settlement offer, but it’s clearly out for blood to win the war in the O’Bannon case with its tough cross-examination tactics for the lead plaintiff. [USA Today]

* GW Law, a school that recently increased its class size by 22 percent and allowed its average LSAT score to slip by two points, yoinked its new dean right out from under Wake Forest’s nose. [GW Hatchet]

* The legal profession isn’t exactly diverse, and law schools want to change that — the more pictures of “diverse” students they can display on their websites, the better. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

* Who really cares what prospective jurors wear when they show up for jury duty? The lawyers arguing that being turned away for wearing sneakers affected their clients’ rights in a case, that’s who. [WSJ Law Blog]

You might die on Mars, but you’d probably be employed.

* Due to the extreme polarization of SCOTUS, with its near constant 5-4 opinion line-ups, “it becomes increasingly difficult to contend … that justices are not merely politicians clad in fine robes.” Yep. [The Upshot / New York Times]

* Tim Wu, the Columbia Law professor who first introduced the term “net neutrality” to the world, had two of his clerkships (Posner and Breyer) “arranged” by Professor Lawrence Lessig. If only we could all be so lucky. [New York Times]

* We’re getting the sinking feeling that the lack of diversity in law school is one of those problems that everyone and their mother claims to be trying to fix, but the lack of momentum keeps it from ever truly improving. [National Law Journal]

* When contemplating what law schools would have to do to get a bailout, this law professor has three ideas, and they involve changing her colleagues’ lives in uncomfortable ways. Well played. [Boston Globe]

* Cole Leonard is struggling to decide between going to law school and going to Mars. Well, he’s more likely to have a job doing anything on Mars than here on Earth as a lawyer. HTH. [Dallas Morning News]

* The L.A. Clippers have a new CEO, for the time being. Say hello to Dick Parsons, the former chairman of Patterson Belknap, a man who the world hopes is not quite as racist as his predecessor. [Am Law Daily]

‘This memo makes my head hurt.’

On any day of the week, it’s highly likely that a Biglaw firm will be trumpeting news of its successful diversity initiatives from any available media rooftop. The public relations folks at these law firms really want you to know that their hallowed halls aren’t completely jam-packed full of old white men — in fact, only 86.1 percent of them are old white men, so there.

Given the glowing alabaster hue of most Biglaw firms, you can see where it could be difficult for members of their so-called diversity committees to actually relate to those who are considered “diverse” in law firm parlance. We’re talking about lawyers of a different gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, but in law firm world, they might as well be otherworldly beings.

We’re told that some of these foreign creatures may be working in your very own law firm. If you’d like to learn how to interact with them, feel free to take some advice from one of the most absurd diversity memos we’ve ever seen…

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Law deans from schools that did poorly in the U.S. News law school rankings can’t stop making excuses for their schools.

Most of the excuses are comical, but none of them bother me quite like the “diversity argument.” The diversity argument claims that a school’s low ranking is somehow because of the school’s commitment to diversity.

If it were a good argument, it would be an offensive one to make. People who do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do shouldn’t go around begging for thanks and praise for doing the right thing. But suggesting that diversity is somehow antithetical to a strong U.S. News ranking isn’t even a good argument to begin with…

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