Why No One Will Hire You, Elie Edition

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.

17 thoughts on “Why No One Will Hire You, Elie Edition

  1. Richard Kopf

    SHG,

    I have given up on Mr. Mystal. While a smart lawyer and a good writer, his schtick is almost always grievance.

    In the piece you write about he also cites to and briefly discusses another piece he wrote about his attendance at an NALP panel on harassment in the federal judiciary. The Speaker was Ninth Circuit Judge Margaret M. McKeown (MMM), a member of Chief Justice Roberts’ working group on #Meetoo stuff.

    Mystal all but accused her and the rest of the entire federal judiciary of intentionally failing to protect frail law clerks from the many judicial perverts he just knows are out there still. Exhibit 1: Koz but not one other judge drummed off the bench.

    I know Judge MMM. She was a path breaker in a big law practice and has a spine of steel. I also know what she and members of the working group have done and not done. Bluntly put, Mystal is full of shit.

    Recent law graduates–whether clerks or associates–are not children and should not be infantilized. But grievance soothes the fevered brow. For Mystal, it also sells.

    All the best.

    RGK

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      As has been discussed here (and elsewhere), the thrust of the Law Clerks for Accountability was to reinvent the federal judiciary to make it all about their feelings at the expense of the administration of law. This is the Big Law version of the same vacuous fantasy.

      As for my pal Elie, it’s a job.

      Reply
  2. AE

    I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

    Sorry, I meant the practice of law.

    I’m shocked, shocked to find that the practice of law is going on in here!
    How dare they try to manage risk.

    Reply
  3. David Lesperance

    I’m sure that black men in the legal profession would benefit tremendously from law firms purging employees on the basis of bad “vibes”.

    Reply
  4. MonitorsMost

    If you want to see a true cultural movement giving rise to an immediate and potentially violent revolt, not serving alcohol at lawyer functions is a great way to do it.

    Reply
  5. Lee Keller King

    Maybe they should teach these poor, fragile women how to defend themselves from the alleged predators?

    Reply
      1. Lee Keller King

        Yep. If it worked to “teach rapists not to rape,” then rape would have disappeared from the world a long time ago.

        Unfortunately, this often leads to young women (and sometimes men) being placed in very bad situations because no one ever taught them any common sense precautions.

        Reply
        1. SHG Post author

          It becomes even more difficult when it’s about words reduced to meaningless vagaries like harassment, defined by the offense taken by the recipient to any conduct or language she finds creepy. Kinda hard not to do something that’s entirely fine until it’s not.

          Reply
  6. Pedantic Grammar Police

    The problem is the idea that women have the same rights and responsibilities as men. This leads to hate speech such as the suggestion that women can call out abuse when they see it instead of needing to be proactively protected from all discomfort.

    We need to tear down all the statues of the cis-hetero shitlords who promoted that idea.

    null

    Reply
  7. losingtrader

    Well, when the women are all begging , “pound me too” what do you expect a guy to do? #Metoo is an invitation, right?

    Reply

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