I, for one, appreciate that Elie Mystal went to the annual convention of the NALP, the National Association of Law Placement, as it’s good to know what’s happening among the functionaries whose role is to connect law students with law jobs, and far better that Elie should be the one to do so than, well, me.
For those who weren’t paying attention at the time, we lost a generation of law school grads back in 2007-10, when there was little demand for new lawyers and far too many for the jobs available. It was a nightmare for these budding lawyers, as they did everything right and yet ended up with massive law school debt and neither a future in law nor a way to get out from under the burden.
Things have since improved for new lawyers, at least as far as the job market is concerned, but there is a new problem, a terrible problem as Elie tells it, that NALP is now coming to grips with.
This year was the year that #MeToo fully metastasized into the world of young lawyer recruitment. There were multiple panels addressing the issue of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct in the workplace, directly. But even panels that didn’t have a #MeToo hashtag in the title were also kinda talking about #MeToo issues. Everybody was aware of the issue.
And, sadly, everybody seemed to be thinking about workarounds.
There was a time when the concern of law students was getting jobs. The concern of law firms was finding the best possible candidates for their jobs, the ones who held promise as lawyers and potential rainmakers. The concern of NALP was making that happen. No more.
The most direct action to address #MeToo issues is to fire lecherous men who cause the problem. That’s not me, that’s Occam’s Razor talking. We can talk a lot about “best practices” and “training” and “promoting a culture of decency,” but if you’re not identifying and removing men who harass or assault the people they work with, then you aren’t doing much.
The conversation between Elie and Occam might not be focused on the right question. Law firms don’t exist to appease the most delicate fears of the most sensitive job applicants. They exist to practice law, to serve their clients, to make enough money to pay for those sensitive women who might feel harassed when some male partner tells them their memo isn’t brilliant.
If there is a lech in the firm, by which I mean the lawyer who would put his hand uninvited on a woman’s breast or call an associate by an epithet beginning with “c,” then there is an objective problem that demands resolution. But it’s far too easy to use conclusory words, as Elie occasionally does, to condemn law firms under the “harass or assault” rubric when the conduct bears no connection to either of these vague and trendy complaints.
Instead of thinking about how to fire the guy who “tests the waters” with the incoming first-year class, NALP was primarily focused on teaching law students how to identify colleagues who are testing the waters and, like, avoid them? Oh, that partner who tries to fix your nametag for you, that’s a “red flag,” maybe try to not work with him. Instead of identifying the guy who treats a summer associate event as a “target rich environment,” the professional development people talked about not serving drinks at summer associate events. Let’s not make it easy for sexual predators! I guess?
The language of rapists, of child molesters, of sexual predators, is an apt description of the big law? Are hiring partners “grooming” summer associates in a “target rich environment”? Maybe the lawyer fixing the name tag is just fixing the name tag. But should the firm fire the lech just in case?
“Misunderstanding” as “sexual harassment” is a fear that preoccupies lots of men, frankly, who think about law firm culture.
And if law firms were just about law and lawyers, competence and making money, that would be understandable. But those days are gone, as law firms are now all about making the young female lawyers feel warm and fuzzy.
Unless the conduct is truly egregious, unless we are talking about a pattern of assault, instead of a merely inappropriate “vibe,” the creepers are going to keep their jobs and their careers. The problems are going to be there and be problems, so like as their problematic behavior stays just below the level of criminal conduct.
How dare law firms not fire their partners, the ones who have demonstrated their skill at the practice of law, their ability to bring in clients to pay the salaries of baby lawyers, when some new female hire says she feels some “inappropriate ‘vibe’,” when the partner is a “creeper.”
What Elie calls a “pathetic response” is what someone less sensitive to the “devastating” impact of a young female lawyer who feels “creeped out” might call rational. Is using the wrong word “just below the level of criminal conduct”?
Jobs were once the problem, and young lawyers desperately wanted and needed them. Apparently, that’s long forgotten, as the demand now is to reinvent the law firm to suit the whims of the most delicate female new hire. But Occam’s Razor talks to the hiring partners at law firms as well as Elie, and the most direct route to fixing this problem is to not hire women who see sexual predators under every rock.
Law firms can either cater to their clients or cater to the fragile sensibilities of the women who want jobs. One of these serves their clients and pays for the gold-embossed letterhead, while the other makes the women feel less “creeped out.” No one suggests that rapists should remain in the partnership, but conflating sexual assault with using the word “girls” is no way to run a law firm. Maybe they should be a bit more appreciative that there are jobs available, and firms are willing to consider them for it, than demanding that the firm trash a partner if he gives some baby lawyer the lech vibe.