17 February 2010

Kerr & Wagstaffe: The Final Word

Usually, I don't put this many posts into a subject like this, and I promise this is the last one, but I wanted to answer one more letter from the Leslie Brodie, the petitioner.
I would like to thank you very much for taking the time to comment on the issues concerning racism/sexism in the legal profession. You are truly perceptive and sharp.

The petition which was posted on-line has been removed, and not by me. Any guesses? There is a good sense of fairness to your personality, so I am sure that you are offended by this development. Can you comment and expose it in your blog?

With the utmost respect to you and to the Commonwealth of Virginia, when you write about other parts of the country, you need to make it very clear that you are from the Appalachian Mountains. Now, why is it Ken? That we can make fun of the large amount of Mountain Dew you drink. No Serri, Bob.

The reason, Ken, is that people need to know you are from the border of Kentucky and Virginia is because the majority of the population there is white. I looked at the web-site of your employer, and everyone there is white. Is that a problem? Of course not.

It is a problem, though, when in a place like San Francisco, California nine out of ten lawyers are white, like it is the case with Kerr & Wagstaffe.

In Cal the white are a minority, and in SF, last I checked, whites are about 20%. In the SF legal arena diversity considerations are HUGE.

So a firm with nine out of ten lawyers who are white, with no blacks, no latinos, and no jews, will tend to draw attention to itself.
As to the petition removal, it's possible the law firm arranged to have it taken down. However, there were also a lot of negative commentary on the petition and anyone who decided they wanted to could easily have looked at the terms of service and made a case that the petition should have been taken down under the content restrictions. In either event, while I disagreed with the petition, I also disagree with its deletion. Free speech, even if it is free speech I disagree with, should always be the default as long as it does not constitute a danger.

As to being from the Virginia-Kentucky border area, please note that I went out of my way to point that out in the first post. As well, I've never drank moonshine in my life, thank you. In any event, if you think that my argument is strongly informed by my life in the Appalachians, Sir, you mistake me. My argument is informed most strongly by my life prior to ever having moved to the mountains.

If I have to have diversity interaction bona fides, here they are. I grew up on the North Side of Lexington, Kentucky which was the wrong side of the tracks. I don't know the exact ethnic breakdowns of my elementary school and Junior High, but I know that Bryan Station High School had 40+% African-American. A couple years later I went off to the Army where 30% of the soldiers were African-American and about 8% were Hispanic. However, my experience was even more varied from the norm. Because I was in a linguistics unit I served with a greater mixture of Arab-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexican Americans. There were also sizable groups of African-Americans, Native Americans, all sorts of Christians, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, and atheists. Among the most unique people I met were a Mithra worshipper, a Druid, and a Satanist. The Army is where I first learned that calling someone an "Asian" or "Hispanic" was likely to get you corrected: "I'm not a 'Hispanic', my family came from Argetina" (admittedly, as we were all soldiers this was usually said more, ahem, gruffly). This was also the first place I met Whites who seriously identified themselves as Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans. Furthermore, as a linguist, I was deployed to the Middle East twice and dealt with Egyptians, Kuwaitis, Saudis, and Bedouins. After leaving the Army and completing my schooling, I practiced as a defense attorney in Richmond, Virginia for about six years. Richmond proper has an African-American population of about 60% and in the Greater Richmond Area about 30%.

Personally, I find all the diversity stuff to be rubbish. I've had friends and colleagues over the years who were Black, Asian, Amerind, Jewish, Baptist, etc. Many of them have been smarter, more driven, and more successful than I have. I will not insult them by saying that they've gotten where they have because of the set they belong to. I also will not agree that, all things being equal, the choice between two hires should go to the one who's not White. No. that's laziness on the part of the hirer, a shoddy way to treat the White who is trying to compete fairly for a job, and insulting to the non-White. It says, "We fear that if we looked deeper you would not be competitive, so we're not going to look. Instead, we're going to hire you because we perceive you to be a member of X group." I stand pretty much where I perceive the Supreme Court to be: if purposeful racial-ethnic discrimination (understanding that mere correlation does not prove causation) can be shown there should be a remedy. Otherwise, let everyone compete on equal grounds.

Still, let's venture onto the field as you've presented it. In San Francisco proper 45% are non-Hispanic White, 31% are of various Asian ethnic groups, 13% are of various Hispanic ethnic groups, and 7% are African-American. In the Bay Area 58% are non-Hispanic White, 19% are of various Asian ethnic groups, 19% are of various Hispanic ethnic groups, and 8% are African-American.

So, let's look at the law firm before it undertook the hiring of the various ladies (which seems to be a more recent occurrence, quite possibly in an effort to diversify). At that time there were five "White" males and one "Asian" male. If we use the Bay Area Demographics (area demographic usually being a more accurate picture of who works in a city than city dweller demographics), there should have been one Asian-American at the firm and one Hispanic-American. Whites should be 3.5 of the firm members - let's round that up to four since half a person is a rather gruesome sight and would probably scare clients away. Basically, the firm was one person away from matching your diversity requirement and, while I am admittedly not a statistician, one person in a six person firm strikes me more of a statistical anomaly, rather than purposeful evil. Taking the same 6 person firm and applying the San Francisco proper demographics, the firm should have three Whites, two Asians, and one Hispanic. I suspect that even two Whites above the projected number is still a statistical anomaly for a group as small as six people, but I'll say that the firm was, by a plain application of flat demographics, short one Hispanic or Asian.

Next, let's overlay the percentages of these three ethnic groups with the percentages who go to law school. I've found figures which state that 3.8% of Whites go to law school and 1.9% of Hispanics. Since I couldn't find Asian figures, I took the national demographic of 13.4 million, added every single Asian 3L listed here from 1972 until now, and then used those two numbers to render a stat of .04% of Asian Americans going to law school (I know it's jury rigged, but it's the best I could put together off the top of my non-statistician head). So, assuming the only population being drawn from is San Francisco itself, there will be 14,459 White lawyers, 2,249 Hispanic lawyers, and 105 Asian lawyers. So, the actual population of lawyers breaks down to 85% White, 13% Hispanic, and .6% Asian. With these numbers, when the firm was 6 attorneys and had 1 Asian-American it was just about spot on as far as White members went (83% of firm - 85% of lawyer pool). On the other hand, one Asian in a 6 person firm is a massive overrepresentation. The 6th spot really should have gone to a Hispanic. Heck, even if we plug actual lawyer levels into the firm after it rose to ten people, 85% of a ten person firm is 8.5 people and therefore 9 people in the firm being White isn't a terrible misrepresentation of the actual community of lawyers.

You may not like the pool of available lawyers, but the ethnic breakdown of that pool is not the fault of the firm.

NOTE: I know there are all sorts of math and assumptive errors above. I was trying to present a thumbnail, not dig deeply into the numbers for absolute accuracy. I am particularly suspicious of the % I came up with for Asian-Americans going to law school, which I had thought might be lower, but never expected to be so low. And, yes, I know that there would be more lawyers than just the three groups talked about above. The exclusion was not meant as a slight, but to allow the model to be simple enough for my brain to wrap itself around.

If you want to narrow the field even further, you start asking how many in the lawyer application pool have graduated from Harvard Law or UM Ann Arbor, or at least a top ten law school? Three of the female hires you've pointed us all to have graduated from these schools. That must be an even smaller pool, whatever the ethnicity of the hire.

Look, as I've said, I don't believe in this kind of idiocy. Merit should be the reason for a hire and the only reason for a hire. In fact, I'm sure someone more schooled in statistics and/or with more accurate figures as to San Francisco and the Bay Area and/or who just wants to can turn my every statistical argument upside down to prove exactly the opposite of my point. This is why there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

One reason the firm may have so many young female members is surge hiring. If, in a fit of PCdom the firm decided it needed female partners, it would hire enough associates that some of them would be expected to make partner. If the firm wanted two female partners and usually lost 50% of its associates without offering them partnerships, it would hire four. Thus, in an long term attempt to counteract perceived unPCness, it could - in the short term - open itself to criticism for its stilted hiring practices.

I don't know if this happened. All I do know is that the women who have been hired by the firm appear to be very qualified and any firm hiring them should be happy to have them.


Anonymous said...

I have never read your blog before but happed upon it when I did a search on "lesliebrodie@in.com" to try to figure out who the heck it was that was sending me (and apparently many others) these e-mails. Thank you for a thoughtful dispelling of lies, damn lies, and statistics and spelling out what to me seems obvious -- picking one relatively small 10-person firm in San Francisco is a very odd way to go about advocating issues of diversity in the legal profession. I have done a fair amount of work in that area and have no desire to have "Leslie Brodie" (if the name is real) as a spokesperson. Her targeting of the Boalt student referenced in the previous comment is in my opinion way, way, way out of line -- and the e-mail reveals the author's weak analytical skills and complete lack of understanding of ethics rules.

Ken Lammers said...

Reprinting to replace actual name with JANE SMITH:

Anonymous said...

Who is Leslie Brodie and why did she send her "STATE BAR COMPLAINT AGAINST BOALT HALL STUDENT JANE SMITH" to me and probably countless others? I do not live or work in California. I have no connection to Boalt, Leslie, or Jane. I do work at a law school, so maybe that is the connection. The email is ridiculous. It seems like Leslie Brodie has too much time on his or her hands.

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled across this discussion, and it is absolutely hilarious. Is this person real? What is wrong with them? How retarded do you have to be to not realize that small law firms are not Gap commercials -- there isn't going to be a black partner, a latino partner, an asian partner, and a white guy all sitting around the conference table at every small SF firm. Why would their be? Why should there be? Why don't the hiring partners at Kerr & Wagstaffe get kudos for hiring a bunch of women in a profession that has been largely dominated by men? You do one good thing and you suffer for it, I swear. I guess they should hire someone sufficiently ethnically diverse to satisfy everyone's needs, maybe a female Tiger Woods? Woods, you'll remember, is one-quarter Chinese, one quarter Thai, one quarter African American, one-eighth Native American, and one-eighth Dutch. He refers to his ethnic make-up as “Cablinasian” (a portmanteau term he coined from Caucasian, Black, American-Indian, and Asian). Hire a couple of those and you're good, I guess. Especially if they have some kind of disability too.

Anonymous said...

I found this site after Googling Leslie Brodie, who is continually spamming me (and likely countless others) from lesliebrodie@breakthru.com (ironic tagline of breakthru.com: "Pure email. Zero spam.") to try and drive traffic to a blog located in the UK. I don't live in the UK (or California, or anywhere near either), nor do I have anything to do with the legal profession. "Leslie Brodie" is just targeting random email addresses around the world to drum up an audience--a sorry and pathetic attempt at true advocacy on real issues. I feel bad you had to waste time responding to this person/bot, but thought I'd say "good for you" for having a clear and well-thought-out argument.

Anonymous said...

August 2011 and I'm still getting spam from Brodie. From breakthru.com.

Complaint sent today to their helpdesk.

Anonymous said...

This Leslie Brodie needs long term psychiatric care. I called Breakthru.com and lodged a complaint, but I expect it will be ignore just like the others.