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Yolanda Young
Law Firm Segregation Reminiscent of Jim Crow
Posted March 17, 2008 | 11:35 AM (EST)

At Georgetown University Law Center, I studied Constitutional Law with Father Robert Drinan. Having served paradoxically as both a priest and a Congressman, he was an apt guide through the maze of cases--Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, and the Bakke decision--that underscored the dichotomy between justice and law when race and power clash.

After graduating from law school, I sold my first book to Random House for a six-figure advance, lectured at Vassar and did commentary for NPR. Today I host the video blog, and write frequently for newspapers. Still, a writer's income is inconsistent, so I've always kept my resume on file with legal placement agencies. Three years ago, a recruiter suggested a staff attorney position at Covington & Burling LLP as a "great opportunity." And it experience the race/power dynamic firsthand.

Staff attorneys are non-partner track lawyers who handle the menial legal tasks--generating binders and attaching "relevant" or "not relevant" codes to thousands of emails, spreadsheets, and any other documents associated with a particular case--that associates shun. While paralegals have their own offices, as many as ten staff attorneys share windowless file rooms. Segregated from other lawyers in the firm, we go uninvited to attorney-only firm functions and are not provided jury duty or maternity leave. The base pay and bonus structure is half that of a 25 year old first year associate's.

Blacks at Covington comprise less than 5% of the Washington office's partners and associates, but make up 30% of its staff attorneys. A peek at the firm's website doesn't reveal this since, unlike all other lawyers there, staff attorneys aren't pictured. Were they, a peculiar pattern would emerge.

In a Legal Times essay, "The Unqualified Myth," Veta T. Richardson, Executive Director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association wrote, "Law firms claim to have consistent hiring criteria, but their ranks are actually filled with exceptions to the rule. These exceptions are more likely to be white lawyers." Indeed, Covington's black staff attorneys (like its black partners and associates) hail from top law schools like Harvard, Duke and Georgetown while several white associates and partners attended schools like Catholic, Kentucky and Villanova (all ranked well below 50). Taken as a whole, the black staff attorneys' average law school rank is higher than that of white staff attorneys at the firm.

Blacks bought into the notion, stressed by legal literature, ranking systems and law firm recruiting departments, that investing in a top legal education is paramount for those wishing to work at top law firms. It's disheartening to then discover that the black student who borrows $120,000 to attend Georgetown will only earn half that of the white associate who's paid $60,000 to attend the University of Maryland.

Covington began stockpiling its staff attorney ghetto with blacks and other minorities in 2005, shortly after the General Council of some of the country's largest companies joined Roderick A. Palmore, Executive Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary of Sara Lee in taking a tougher stance on law firm diversity. Signed by hundreds of General Counsel, this new "Call to Action" states they will retain firms that demonstrate a level of diversity reflective of their employees and customers and end their relationship with firms "whose performance consistently evidences a lack of meaningful interest in being diverse."

Covington has certainly diversified its firm; however, its attorneys are far from equals. The vast majority of Covington's black attorneys do no substantive work, have no control over their case assignments and no opportunity for advancement. This seems to be just the sort of structure the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission warned against in its 2003 "Diversity In Law Firms" report which stated, "In large, national law firms, the most pressing issues have probably shifted from hiring and initial access to problems concerning the terms and conditions of employment, especially promotion to partnership."

Palmore has made clear that in drafting the "Call", his hope was that rather than utilize minority attorneys solely to satisfy a billables requirement, firms would use diversity to advance a firm's culture so that a variety of perspectives influence how a firm functions. It is clear that when true diversity is absent, a dysfunctional work place arises, one in which even purveyors of racial jokes are tolerated.

At a staff meeting to address concerns regarding a colleague's reading aloud a Wikipedia list of racial slurs, the staff attorney manager downplayed the incident then recalled how as a child when his pet monkey got out of its cage, his mother never cared about the why or how. She simply wanted it not to happen. The analogy was ill-advised but the inference clear--rather than rooting out racism in the workplace, he only cared that the offender cease the behavior and the offended desist complaining about it.

One might wonder, "Why do blacks stand for such monkey business?" Because they know that to object, one risks ruining one's career. In the law review article, "Why Are There So Few Black Lawyers in Corporate Law Firms? An Institutional Analysis," authors David Wilkins and Mitu Gulati assert that black lawyers lack mentors who can protect them.

Recently, I contacted the black graduates from my law school class to find out how others were fairing in the legal profession. Many are working in government, a few have been very successful at careers outside the law and some are in-house attorneys. Nearly all who'd had experience in a large firm environment expressed chagrin, sighting instance after instance of suspect treatment. Of the few still at firms, I could only find one out of a class of more than 50 blacks who had made partner at a large law firm. How'd he accomplish this? "Sure I worked hard, made myself indispensable, but I'm not going to say I'm the only person who's ever done that. You have to have a Partner willing to be an advocate for you. I had several actually. There was a black partner who was helpful, but my most vocal advocate was a Jewish guy who made sure I stayed on track."

Absent a mentor, it's easy to be derailed. On August 14th, at 10am, I was told that I was being laid off. I received no severance and my computer was switched off at noon. Since then I have been resisting the impulse to question whether Covington's staff attorney policy is unfair to blacks and other minorities. It's a question no black professional wants to confront. We know the eye-rolling and impatient sighs the issue provokes. To protest, one faces reproach and career suicide. Firms know this and bank on everyone's silence.

Conservative columnists like Stuart Taylor Jr. have suggested that minorities aren't bringing discrimination lawsuits against law firms because disparate treatment doesn't exist, but try this logic.

Black attorneys know law firms have the resources to crush an adversary. It is possible that Covington or, more specifically, the partner charged with managing our group were not bias. Perhaps he was simply inept, better equipped for his other firm duties -- planning Friday Happy Hours, organizing the firm's NCAA pool and choosing the band for the office Holiday party. Even he remarked that it took him 17 years to make partner. Unfortunately, blacks don't get to stick around that long. I wish Father Drinan was still alive to help me make sense of this.
Ex-Staff Attorney Takes Aim at BigLaw Minority Hiring
Posted by Dan Slater

Covington began stockpiling its staff attorney ghetto with blacks and other minorities in 2005, shortly after the General Council [sic] of some of the country’s largest companies [took] a tougher stance on law firm diversity. . . . Covington has certainly diversified its firm; however, its attorneys are far from equals. The vast majority of Covington’s black attorneys do no substantive work, have no control over their case assignments and no opportunity for advancement. — Yolanda Young, The Huffington Post
In recent years, major companies like Wal-Mart and Sara Lee have directed that their outside law firms increase the number of women and minorities among associate and partner ranks. The effort began when Roderick A. Palmore, Sara Lee’s general counsel, wrote a letter encouraging other GC’s to end or limit “relationships with firms whose performance consistently evidences a lack of meaningful interest in being diverse.”

Since then reports have varied as to how successful firm diversification efforts have been. But, according to Yolanda Young, who worked briefly as a staff attorney at Covington & Burling’s D.C. office, they’ve not been successful. In yesterday’s HuffPo, Young writes that Covington hired blacks into its staff attorney program after the call for greater diversity.

“Covington’s black staff attorneys (like its black partners and associates) hail from top law schools like Harvard, Duke and Georgetown, while several white associates and partners attended schools like Catholic, Kentucky and Villanova (all ranked well below 50),” claims Young. “Taken as a whole, the black staff attorneys’ average law school rank is higher than that of white staff attorneys at the firm.” Young writes that blacks at Covington ....

Black Law Student Discussion Board / Re: The Thread on Politics
« on: September 28, 2008, 02:34:11 AM »
<---Hates Palin.
You mention Biden.  While I can't knock anybody for attending a state school (state school grad here) and admittedly Syracuse Law is not exactly Harvard Law, it's still law school.  Read: he did graduate from a single college (in 4 years mind you) took an LSAT, got into law school, went, graduated, got a JD, took the bar and passed it.  After surviving an experience that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemies, anybody who can pass the bar has my respect...Biden may be Gomer Pile, but at least he's a soldier.

Hats off, Sands. You might consider putting this on your web site. It could keep the dream alive for a lot of kids.

More on this Generous Gesture

Howard Grad Creates LSAT Prep Scholarship
Jessica Lewis
 Students planning to take the LSAT may be able to prepare for the exam for free with the help of Kristina Maury.

Maury, a 2007 Howard graduate and Harvard Law student, introduced a scholarship for students interested in pursuing a career in law - The Terrance Mac Maury Scholarship Fund. The scholarship will cover the full cost of a Kaplan Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) classroom course, which averages about $1,299. Test takers will then be responsible for the $127 exam itself.

"The scholarship is named after my dad," Maury said. "He was murdered after getting involved with drugs and my scholarship represents the chance he never had."

After looking at the scoring pattern for blacks when compared to other races, who tend to be "overrepresented" in law school, Maury decided to hold a fundraiser to start her own scholarship fund to help adjust the trend.

"For my birthday, I held a mini fundraiser and asked my family and friends to make donations versus giving me gifts," she said. So far, Maury has raised enough funds to distribute the scholarship to one person in November 2008.

Junior legal communications major, Angela Porter expressed gratitude for the scholarship, as she thinks there is always a need for LSAT Prep courses, making this scholarship extremely beneficial to students.

"African-Americans tend to lag behind the majority when it comes to standardized testing," Porter said.

The average LSAT score for whites was 152.47 in 2004, and 142.43 for blacks, according to "The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education."

Maury recognizes this imbalanced trend. "I think the problem lies more in the tests versus whether or not we, as African Americans, are being prepared for it, but I think that I could make a bit of a difference," she said.

Along with the family and friends that contributed to the fund, Maury will judge applicants based on the criteria outlined on the Web site,

The scholarship is available to one black junior or senior currently enrolled at an accredited institution of higher education in the United States. The applicants must have a 3.5 GPA with a demonstrated financial need.

In terms of "demonstrated financial need," Maury requests applicants to define their need rather than provide documented proof.

Coming from a single parent, middle-class family, Maury says that she understands that financial need goes beyond numbers and income.

Porter is already planning to apply for the scholarship having met the criteria.
To increase the impact of the scholarship fund, Maury intends to provide the recipient with any help they may need in terms of preparation.

Maury plans to continue this scholarship in the coming years and increase the award amount by partnering with law firms and associations.

Do you have a link to this study on black children raised by white families?

I can't link you to the studies because I heard the results first hand from the researcher, who was a professor of mine, but I can tell you that the author of the studies I'm referring to was Al Maisto.

Here is a link to
Psychology, Public Policy, and Law
2005, Vol. 11, No. 2, 235–294

There is a section included on transracial adoptions which identifies by name some of the key studies and findings. You'll also find arguments that the studies require follow-up studies and cannot be taken at face value.

IMO, if you want a cutting edge perspective, take a look at the cognitive evolution book. It analyzes new brain studies to interpret what the iq data mean.

I'm getting into this thread late, but I have to point out that there is evidence against this claim:

the difference between analytical thinkers and non-analytical thinkers becomes one of upbringing and environment.

In fact, in numerous studies of identical twins raised in different homes (sometimes at opposite ends of the economic and cultural spectrums) the twins nearly always test within a couple points of each other in terms of IQ. This would suggest that IQ is almost totally genetically determined.

The author of the above quote may want to comment, but certain types of thinking patterns are learned. (to greater and lesser degrees) People go to law school to learn how to "think like a lawyer." On average these people are considered very bright, but they still must learn not only legal concepts but how to analyze and apply them and how to make legal arguments.

As to the issue of twins, studies of black children reared by white families suggest that some of the studies of twins are flawed or incomplete. If the average IQ of black children reared by whites is significantly higher than the average IQ of similar black children reared by blacks, then IQ cannot be prescribed primarily by genetics.

You may want to check out a book called Cognitive Evolution mentioned in the beginning of this thread. It proposes that the act of thinking itself has biological consequences. Heady stuff.

Black Law Student Discussion Board / Re: The Thread on Politics
« on: August 13, 2008, 05:35:15 PM »

"Colin Powell to endorse Obama and speak at Democratic Convention"


I was wondering if the Roberts gesture to North Carolina Central University students will make him more popular among African Americans? Does this sort of thing matter?

It's doubtful. (unless he begins to vote like Ruth Bader Ginsburg) ;)

Black Law Student Discussion Board / Re: The Thread on Politics
« on: August 01, 2008, 02:46:55 PM »
‘Praise The One’: New McCain Ad Attacks The ‘Divine’ Obama

Link to video

Best of luck to my favorite BLSD bar examinees!  

oh I missed these.  Thanks!

You're welcome  8)

Black Law Student Discussion Board / Re: The Thread on Politics
« on: July 31, 2008, 12:09:09 AM »

Inside, according to a witness, he told the House members, "This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for," adding: "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions."
As he marches toward Inauguration Day (Election Day is but a milestone on that path), Obama's biggest challenger may not be Republican John McCain but rather his own hubris.

This was apparently taken out of context and misquoted:

No tape of the event exists and no one is denying the quote. But one leadership aide said the full quote put it into a different context. According to that aide, Obama said, "It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign -- that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It's about America. I have just become a symbol."

Some say the supremely confident Obama -- nearly 100 days from the election, he pronounces that "the odds of us winning are very good" -- has become a president-in-waiting. But in truth, he doesn't need to wait: He has already amassed the trappings of the office, without those pesky decisions.

Also cutting out the important context at the end of that quote:

"And people have responded all across the country. We are now in a position where the odds of us winning are very good. But it’s still going to be difficult.

The "this is the moment the world has been waiting for" quote has been attributed to Obama before...apparently without objection. The notion of human deliverance is blasphemy to significant groups of people, however.

When the above is coupled with the "symbol" reference to his person...the slope to some observers is slippery.
The Pres  has not been considered traditionally as a "symbol" but more as the CEO of the nation which is seen as a "symbol" of freedom and democracy.

It may prove difficult for Obama to put this genie back in the bottle...even if the Washington Post article misquotes him.

And bluewarrior re: "my advice...stop talking about it...stop repeating it...and suggest nothing negative"    Projection of a larger than life citizen of the world image appears to be a deliberate campaign strategy.

may be so...however, may aye remind you that there is a significant part of the electorate in swing states who obama HAS to win over...image is everything but votes get you elected...unless obama is thinking toward 2012...obama better pay attention to florida, pennsylvania and jersey could come in play as well...if citizen of the world counts...obama could count on dutch vote but not pennsylvania dutch vote...tick tock. :-\

in addition...the president of the usa is percieved by americans even more narrowly as commander in chief than ceo.

For most Americans it is both (1) Commander in chief (national security) and (2) CEO.

For some minority racial and political groups it appears to be (2) and then (1).

Obama's campaign strategy is to play both groups against the middle. In a world of instant communication this can result in the image of a say anything to get elected politician. The Rev. Wright stated as much. He claimed that Obama is as 'radical' as he is...but just cannot say so until he is elected. Most Americans do not want radical presidents.

Also comments by Obama suggesting that he believes himself to be a "symbol" of what "the world has been waiting for" do not sit well with most Americans. Most Americans do not want a messiah president.

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