Fear of the Flies

A comment by Skink the other day reminded me of a guest post that never happened. Out of the blue, I heard from a lawprof friend who sought to push me to write more about what was happening internally within the New York Legal Aid Society. I was sent a bunch of internal emails which were graphic and appalling.*

I replied that I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. If there were problems at LAS, then someone from LAS should come forward to say so, to tell the story of what the problems are. Not only wasn’t it my place to “explain” their view of internal problems, but enough already. Was there not a person in all of the Legal Aid Society with the balls to come forward to speak out?

At that point, there was no one willing to come forward to tell what was really happening at LAS other than my dear friend, Appellate Squawk, whose travails at the storming of her blog by the townsfolk carrying their pitchforks and torches were well documented. Later, another brave soul who showed the fortitude to speak publicly was Cynthia Taylor, but she was suing LAS which allowed public defenders to claim her words were tainted by self-interest.

If things were as bad at LAS as I was being told, where was the brave, bold, fierce public defender to come out of the shadows without being the target of accusations of heresy or suing for damages, untainted and uncompromised? Was there no one? If not, could it be as bad as so many were telling me?

The prawf who reached out to me offered a “solution.” There was, I was informed, a supervisor who wanted to tell the story about the internal wars over extremes of politically correct radicalization, about the lawyers who believed themselves fierce warriors for the cause, about the new lawyers who were certain they were the best lawyers ever, but couldn’t lawyer their way out of a paper bag, blaming the system for their own failings.

There was a catch. The supervisor, whom I will call “Piggy,” would only do so anonymously.

Understand that within the realm of public defense, the range of political views tends to run the gamut of moderately progressive to radically progressive. A liberal at LAS might as well wear a MAGA hat, The spectrum is narrow, but within that spectrum, the fights are vicious and absolute.

As much as Piggy wanted to tell what was happening, Piggy was scared of the flies. There were flies hovering above Piggy, and many more below, and they would swarm to destroy Piggy if they knew who Piggy was. To tell publicly was to end Piggy’s career at Legal Aid, and even though there were others who would fully support Piggy for doing so, they would be unlikely to step forward in Piggy’s defense and put their own butts on the line. That’s how strongly the heretics feared the flies.

After some reflection, I decided that it would be better to publish a guest post from Piggy anonymously than not. After all, I could preface it by noting that I knew Piggy’s identity and could verify that Piggy was who Piggy claimed to be, and so it would fall on my shoulders to believe that my source was real.

Sure, some would call me out for my allowing such a “passive-aggressive” post, or for lying to pursue my “agenda” of hating Legal Aid or public defense. It was only natural that I had to hate both because no one but a hater would speak ill of the most wonderful people in law. But I was prepared to take my beating.

I told the prawf that I would do it, protect Piggy’s anonymity and publish whatever Piggy had to say. In response, I received the information needed to reach out to Piggy directly and pursue this plan. Buried in the email from the prawf was an email address for Piggy, unconnected to LAS. There was also a prominent LAS email address under Piggy’s name. I sent Piggy an email. I sent it to the LAS address.

All hell broke loose.

I received an email ripping me a new one for sending the Piggy email to an LAS address, as the email might be seen by others reviewing emails for impropriety and Piggy might be outed as a snitch and ruined. How dare I? What was I thinking?

That was the end of the road, as far as this plan was concerned. I never heard from Piggy directly. There would be no guest post coming, no revelations from the inside, from a supervisor, from a voice that cared more about skilled lawyers defending the accused than fierce warriors in their own minds defending the cause.

Since then, other people who hold senior positions in the Legal Aid Society, Bronx Defenders and Brooklyn Defender Services have reached out to tell me stories about how untenable things have gotten in their respective shops.

None showed any interest in taking it any further than privately telling me their stories, their complaints. It’s unclear whether they did so to confirm things I’ve written, or in the hope that I would be their huckleberry, doing the dirty work they lacked the guts to do.

While I could relate the stories, the complaints, the failings, it’s not the same as if it came from the people in the trenches first hand. Much as I may share their concerns, I can’t speak for them. And they won’t speak for themselves because they live in fear of offending the swarm of flies so full of their self-importance and righteousness that they care nothing about experience or hierarchy. And they don’t believe their peers will ever take the risk of backing them up.

You can believe what I say in this post or not. This is what comes of the flies swarming. And if you accept my representation that this is true, then accept one more piece of the puzzle: as bad as current public defenders may be, many of the babes in law school who intend to become public defenders to serve the cause are worse, not even the slightest hint that they aren’t already the best there can be, but by far the most absolute in their smug and snarky righteousness. No one, but no one, can tell them otherwise. At least, no one can do so and survive.

*Bear in mind that my views are often formed based on information I possess, even if I’m unable to reveal them because the information has been given me in confidence.

26 thoughts on “Fear of the Flies

  1. B. McLeod

    I read this book in law school. “Horde of the Flies,” I believe it was called. In those days, we did not yet know that Ralph was really the captain, and the captain was really Ralph.

  2. Robert

    It is easy for you to sit there and fling out accusations of cowardice., since you are not at risk of losing your job by saying the things you do. You speaking out is not some brave thing on your part.

    When a person’s job is on the line, however, powerful considerations come into play such as not being able to pay the mortgage, other bills, feeding the kids, etc.

    Granted, the people you are calling out as “cowards” are certainly not being brave by their public silence, but calling them “cowards” seems rather extreme when coming from someone who doesn’t have nearly as much to lose as they do.

    I wonder if you would have the same attitude if you were in their position.

    1. Grant

      When has this blog ever said, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead .. Oh, no, wait, those are pretty big torpedoes.”?

      SHG may have the easy seat on this issue, but the easily outraged have a spot reserved for him at the guillotine.

      1. B. McLeod

        Come the revolution, nearly all of us have said and written too many improvident things to escape a trip to the reeducation camps.

        1. DeJon Redd


          Who said this was simple? Have you discovered this “change the world” biz isn’t easy? Perhaps, learning of the sacrifices of those who dared try to effect change before us might decrease the volume on the whiny, self-identified influencers.

          “Local lawyer heralded for sacrificing 9 to 5 with good benefits” does not center on a compelling figure.

      1. Cinnamongirl

        Agreed. I decided I could not put up with the toxic environment created by the baby lawyers and their mentors and took a leap of faith that it would all work out and it has. Getting away was the best thing. There is life after LAS. My friends came out of the woodwork to help me. It’s amazing how much mental energy has returned. That place was literally killing me. The golden handcuffs have turned to rust. Either take a stand, get out or both. But don’t let silence be your legacy. Be the advocate you were meant to be and save indigent defense for a future generation that understands colleagues are not the enemy and there is real work to be done. I don’t have a self-interest in suing. I want to make sure other people who have devoted their careers to justice are not driven out on a rail. Ms. Piggy please come forward. We have power in numbers.

  3. wilbur

    To what do we attribute this unreasonable sense of entitlement and proficiency? I sure as hell had neither when I left law school or passed the bar.

    It’s a serious question. Is it the educational environment they came through? Or is it growing up in a culture where they are told they’re good and what they think has to be right?

    You truly gain confidence in yourself and your abilities through hard work and experience, and lots of it. Or has that changed, too?

    It’s too bad those senior folks are so afraid; somebody needs to throw a broom into the hen house.

      1. Raccoon Strait

        I don’t think this is a new phenomena. In my day (in my field, forty some years ago) we called it, let’s say, diploma-itis. The students passed the tests and won the degree. They’d been in school all their lives and are now finally free. They’d achieved the pinnacle, and came away with the misconception that they knew everything.

        My take on education is that school is about laying foundations and teaching people how to learn. Even, and maybe especially, in advanced degrees. Phd’s, for example, learn what is both basic and advanced in their fields, so they can identify and isolate missing pieces of the puzzle, and go research and hypothesize about what might constitute those missing pieces. In other words, continue to learn. Something our education system fails to reiterate, to the detriment of their output.

        Learning is a lifelong endeavor and to get in the mindset that one knows everything precludes the continuation of learning. In the field of law, there are always new laws, new court decisions to incorporate into arguments, creative legal defenses to emulate. Which means to stop learning creates stagnation, and put up against an opponent who hasn’t stagnated, gives that opposition a huge advantage. Competency in the law would seem to preclude operating on a set of facts that ended with law school graduation since the playing field spews new facts and interpretations on both a regular and irregular basis.

        It may be that ‘methodologies for continuing education’ is a necessary class currently missing from law school curriculum (or basic undergraduate curriculum) but should be seriously considered. I suspect that there is a certain amount of continuing education required for certain memberships in professional organizations, but it certainly seems the concept is lost on at least the recent graduate, as well as those prone to the egocentric idealization that school taught them everything. When baby lawyers start losing cases because they are not up to date on the latest and greatest, the choices are to continue in denial (and potential losses), or learn.

        1. SHG Post author

          I don’t think the problem is substantive knowledge (it’s not that they aren’t well educated or smart, per se), such as new caselaw, but the accumulated wisdom of experience, the tricks of the trade, the things you don’t find in books or that academics can’t tell you.

          1. Raccoon Strait

            Agreed, it has to do with closed minds. The kind of closed minds that can come from believing they know everything. If they last long enough, the experience will come. But it is their predilection to conflating their professional standing and responsibilities with the social constructs (ideology) that their revered peers and/or idols portray that are aiding in maintaining their righteousness, and that slows that progression. They think they already know everything.

            Kind of like the difference between doing things right, and doing the right thing, they are often not the same thing. It is sometimes hard to know which to do, and when, at least until one learns enough to know the difference, and what the consequences of each are, and in what situations. Which constitutes experience.

            So far as what “academics can’t tell you”, non lawyer law profs are those kind of academics, as you have pointed out many times. I would expect more from law profs that have trench experience, though there is a difference in knowing about another’s experience and experiencing it for oneself. Youth are told fire is hot, but many need to get burned to believe it.

            However, we may be talking in circles here. While there is a difference between book learning and what is learned from experience, in the end, they are both learning.

      2. Grant

        I know I’m late to the party and answering with a personal anecdote, but in my case, it was that I was the one doing research for the older lawyers and showing the older lawyers the ‘puters. It made me feel like an expert.

        And then I found they had me doing those things because neither research or computing are important skills for succeeding as a lawyer. Being a lawyer is about convincing judges, adversaries, and adjusters to do things for you.

  4. L. Phillips

    Wilbur nailed it. “You truly gain confidence in yourself and your abilities through hard work and experience, and lots of it.” That hasn’t changed because in some human endeavors there is only one way. True quiet bedrock confidence is one of those endeavors. Chest beating, name calling and fly swarming are all symptoms of a deep lack of experience and confidence.

    I suspect that throwing a broom into the hen house will only result in a chewed up broom handle. The non-woke in those institutions are probably keeping their heads down until they can either transition to another facet of the law or until they can retire – hoping that the whole structure doesn’t collapse of its own weight before they can escape.

    Not a heroic reaction, but certainly a realistic one.

  5. Anon PD

    What’s your point here? Do you think you are going to single-handedly change the minds of 10,000 young PDs and law students, or are you venting against, and on behalf, of their supervisors who won’t take the risk?

    1. SHG Post author

      I’m not quite so arrogant as to think anything said here is going to counter the many voices of wokiosity that pervades law school and the hallways of public defenders offices, but there are law students and PDs who aren’t ideologues, realize there are problems, and need to know they are not alone just because none of their colleages dare risk saying something that could result in their professional demise.

      And maybe, I can sow the seed of doubt, even if just the tiniest of seeds.

      1. Fubar

        While sipping a modest Bordeaux,
        I reviewed all the wisdom I know.
        One great truth¹, Oriental,
        Or perhaps Occidental:
        From the mustard seed mighty oaks grow!

        FN 1: The other one is to always use the reply button.

  6. Skink

    By the numbers:

    1. Social media tells them they’re geniuses, so they are. They never, and I mean never, have face-to-face conversations where the words “you’re a dope” are uttered. I remember many times during my first year of practice being told something like, “stop being a dipshit dumbass.” They will never hear it because that’s now a firing offense. Being personally called a dipshit dumbass acts as an inoculation to continuing as one.

    2. Tomorrow’s NYT headline: “Some Skink Dude Asks Questions; Many Claim Sadness.”

    1. SHG Post author

      You don’t hang out at the twitters, so you may not be aware of this. Twit something shy of effusively supportive at a baby lawyer or law student for saying something dumb, and they will get a swarm of support (what they hope will be a “ratio”) and you will be attacked by all the snark they can muster. This serves two purposes, to shut down people who would disagree with whatever they said, but also to validate their own dopiness.

      As I’m told from time to time, if all these very smart people (meaning their tribe) agree with them, they must be right. That’s usually followed by a demand for an apology and an act of contrition lest the baby lawyers think ill of you. Sadly, I see some old lawyers bend to their whims to be popular on social media.

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