The Teacups Of The Legal Aid Society

One of the long-standing, and most admirable, characteristics of New York City’s Legal Aid Society was that its lawyers were a tough crew. They handled tough cases. They fought hard. They dealt with nasty cases and nasty people, and they were tough enough to do so. As a training ground for criminal defense lawyers, there were few places one could do better.

But has the toughness given way to political correctness? So it appears from their newly revised Equal Employment Policy.

As an equal opportunity employer, The Legal Aid Society prohibits discriminatory employment actions against and treatment of its employees and applicants for employment based on actual or perceived race or color, religion or creed, alienage or citizenship status, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age, sexual orientation, gender identity (one’s internal deeply-held sense of one’s gender which may be the same or different from one’s sex assigned at birth; one’s gender identity may be male, female, neither or both, e.g., non-binary), gender expression (the representation of gender as expressed through, for example, one’s name, choice of pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, or body characteristics; gender expression may not be distinctively male or female and may not conform to traditional gender-based stereotypes assigned to specific gender identities), disability, marital status, familial status, domestic partnership status, genetic information or predisposing genetic characteristics, military status, domestic violence victim status, arrest or pre-employment conviction record, or any other characteristic protected by law.

The laundry list includes things required by law, then every other fashionable trait as well. Predisposing genetic characteristics? How does one even know to discriminate based on genetics, or more to the point, to avoid doing so? And never, but never, mention a colleague’s incredibly awful haircut.

And then there’s harassment, the all-purpose word of choice for accusing another of amorphous wrongs.

Harassment does not require an intent to offend. Thus, inappropriate conduct or language meant as a joke, a prank, or even a compliment can lead or contribute to harassment.

Most people, particularly lawyers, grasp the significance of intent. When any utterance, even a “compliment,” can be harassment, there’s a problem. One can never tell what might offend another person, especially when there is a predisposing genetic characteristic at stake. Some people are unduly sensitive. Others, not so much. How should one know?

Consider a LAS lawyer asking a colleague about tactics in an upcoming rape or child molestation trial. Will she traumatize the lawyer with the facts? Could be, and that’s harassment. Or just the gallows humor that’s a hallmark of criminal defense lawyers, now a risk that could end a job, perhaps a career as one’s marked as a harasser?

And never, but never, ask a fellow LAS lawyer out on a date.

The Society prohibits conduct that constitutes or could lead or contribute to
sexual harassment. Examples of such conduct include, but are not limited to:

• unwelcome sexual flirtations, advances or propositions;

Most of us view a question as a good way to get an answer, such as whether someone would like to go out with us. But if the answer is no, that’s an “unwelcome…proposition.” Can’t have that. It might be too awkward to endure, and LAS lawyers certainly aren’t tough enough to just say no.

But this isn’t just about one’s colleagues, the fellow lawyers of the Legal Aid Society, as the hurt and trauma one might endure from discrimination and harassment can come from anywhere. So anywhere it is:

This policy is for the benefit of and applies to all employees and applicants for employment, regardless of whether the prohibited conduct is engaged in by fellow employees, supervisors, managers, or someone not directly connected with the Society (e.g., a client, judge, opposing counsel, co-counsel, volunteer, or outside vendor).

Apparently, the LAS policy dictates the words and actions of not only its own people, but judges and opposing counsel. How, exactly, it plans to discipline judges and prosecutors for not using a LAS lawyer’s preferred pronoun is hard to imagine, and as for co-counsel, chances are poor that they will find their dictating prohibited conduct to aid in cooperation for their clients’ benefit.

And yes, the clients. They’re in there. Apparently, no LAS lawyer need suffer a client who doesn’t respect their deepest and most delicate feelings. It’s unclear what this means, whether LAS will refuse to defend the rapist, the guy in the holding cell who calls a he a she? If racial slurs upset them, they’re not going to like going to the pens where the language tends to be a bit rougher than in gender studies class.

Criminal defense is a tough business. The lawyers who practice it tend to be tough lawyers, as anybody who isn’t can’t bear the pressure, the demands of the courtroom or the clients who, ahem, are often criminals. These were the types of lawyers who worked for Legal Aid, tough lawyers. Anyone who wasn’t tough enough found out soon enough that they weren’t a good fit for the trenches.

Now, LAS appears to demand that the trenches change to meet the most sensitive feel of their most fragile teacup. No LAS lawyer should have to endure some hard-ass defendant remarking about their buttocks or their career choice working for Lemonade. There will be tears. There will be sadness. There will be clients who just don’t deserve the representation of a LAS lawyer.

Perhaps this isn’t really a concern, the nature of new hires at the LAS being limited to those who have already internalized the need to be utterly inoffensive in every conceivable way to every person they meet. Sure, the judges may not play ball, but the lawyer can always run out of the courtroom to a safe space with a kitten to soothe their fevered brow.

But then, these revised policies suggest that LAS is all about the feelings of their lawyers, at the expense of their clients. And isn’t that really what law is all about these days to the deeply passionate anyway?

Note: This hardly exhausts the problems with this new policy, which goes on to deny the accused basic due process in challenging a claim of harassment, even the source of the accusation to avoid the trauma of confrontation. Nor is firing the end of the line, as LAS will go after the “perp” as well. It’s as if no one there has ever heard of the law.

15 thoughts on “The Teacups Of The Legal Aid Society

  1. DaveL

    Would it be unduly cynical of me to doubt the LAS’s commitment to actually police the pronoun usage of judges and rapists, and instead interpret their statement as a really verbose way of saying “don’t sue us, we’re nice people?”

    1. SHG Post author

      That remains to be seen, though I hear that one LAS lawyer already lost his job for not believing in transgender orthodoxy.

  2. Lucas Beauchamp

    The policy defines “gender identity” as “one’s internal deeply-held sense of one’s gender which may be the same or different from one’s sex assigned at birth . . ..” I did not realize that, except in the rare case of postnatal gender clarification surgery, one’s sex is “assigned at birth.” The policy probably uses that language to avoid enacting violence by referring to b____gical s__.

    1. SHG Post author

      How horrible would it have been to enact violence in the description of discrimination? They might have to fire themselves. That said, the favored euphemism of the day will soon be a slur. By next week, at the latest.

  3. B. McLeod

    They have to have a lot of special requirements to help winnow the flood of applicants for these lucrative positions.

  4. Billy Bob

    My wife sez, if I go fishin’ one more time, she’s gonna leave me.
    Shore gonna miss her! Same with LAS. If they go into the crapper like that there, we’re shore gonna miss em. Overworked and underpaid as they are. Do-gooders, all of em. “Those who purport to do good, rarely do the good they purport to do. They help themselves, naturally. So let’s help those who, God, help themselves!” (The Ninth Rule of Uncle/Wild Bill.)

    A hot job, eh? What are you smokin? It’s a job for “losers”, as Mr. Prez would say. Losers and Amazing are two of his favorite words. Limited vocabulary-breath!? Not to mention “fired”. Ha.

  5. mb

    >Most people, particularly lawyers, grasp the significance of intent.

    Do they? I’m asking in all seriousness. At what point does the profession need to crack down and purge itself of this kind of nonsense? How many times do I have to see lawyers and law profs making public statements and arguments that demonstrate a complete lack of any ability to grasp the significance of intent, before I am justified in disputing your statement here?

  6. LH

    I am not sure if you have read federal EEOC law on harassment because other than expanding the categories of those protected this policy is not that radical. EEOC law does not require intent. That’s critical with harassment cases for very obvious reasons. A man for instance could repeatedly use the word slut and claim he did not mean it to be offensive whereas to most women that would be highly offensive.

    Also jokes can absolutely be a form of harassment. One joke will rarely be enough to constitute harassment. Continuing jokes that form a pattern of behavior could be. Asking someone out on a date once would not by itself be enough to constitute harassment. Continuing to ask them out would be.

    I mean, please, all lawyers know you cannot just read words literally. You need to appreciate context. This piece and the comments are pretty ignorant.

    1. SHG Post author

      I mean, please, all lawyers know you cannot just read words literally.

      Nice unicorn you got there. You just make up whatever bullshit works for you.

      1. Miles

        That was a Billy Madison moment if I’ve ever seen one. Aside from being a bizarre conflation of Title VII and complete nonsense, I gather LH didn’t see today’s LAS post, which nails home the lie.

        1. SHG Post author

          I don’t think it would change a thing. Once your on a unicorn, neither facts nor reality matter.

          1. Miles

            Of course not. When your arg is the absurd words of the policy aren’t meant to be read literally, but they’re going to apply it arbitrarily, LH conceded that reality plays no role whatsoever.

            And we are, of course, “pretty ignorant.” Fucking nutjob.

            1. SHG Post author

              From what I’m hearing from the people inside Legal Aid, it’s about to implode. Not everyone at LAS lives in this world of social justice bullshit.

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