Women in the Law
Posted Oct 21, 2016 06:00 pm CDT
Partners, law firm associates and in-house counsel gathered at Mayer Brown’s New York office Thursday to confront issues of gender inequity in BigLaw and brainstorm ways to move the needle.
The discussion comes at a time when the state of diversity in the profession is sobering at best and dismal at worst, according to the panel.
The event, “Visible Difference: Reversing The Trend of Women Leaving Law Practice” focused on best practices—what’s working and what’s not—against a backdrop of recent proposed class action lawsuits filed by women partners and new reports of pay disparities and lack of diversity in large law firms. The ABA Journal partnered with Mayer Brown to produce collaborative panel discussions in Chicago and New York.
“If we had an equal number of women in leadership roles at the firm, we wouldn’t have this problem,” said panelist and Mayer Brown partner Lisa Ferri. “When women are on compensation committees, there is less disparity in pay.”
A recent survey by Major, Lindsey & Africa found male partners make 44 percent more on average than female partners. And according to a new report by the New York City Bar Association, the number of women first-year associates at large New York law firms has dropped by five percentage points since 2004.
“The biggest challenge …is attrition,” Ferri acknowledged. “Because of that we don’t have a pipeline [to partnership].”
Ferri suggested that attorneys should get credit for the collaborative ways they serve the firm’s clients, and not just for billable hours. She said firms should also find ways to share origination credit. “There has to be an actual change in the firm or things that stand in the way of succeeding,” Ferri added.
“We’re at a point where the next level of change is going to require structural change,” said moderator Arin Reeves, who founded the research and consulting firm Nextions. “How can we mentor women better? How can we sponsor women better?”
Reeves points to her recent research that demonstrates “we don’t need to do anything ‘more’ for women. We need to get out of their way” by removing barriers and challenges.
Gabrielle Lyse Brown, director of diversity and inclusion at the New York City Bar Association, presented data from that organization’s new report (PDF) showing one in four New York firms has no women on its management committee, and one in eight has no women practice group leaders. The report also revealed that of female partners at responding law firms, 85 percent were white, 7 percent were Asian or Pacific Islander, 3.6 percent were black and 2.5 percent were Hispanic.
“Women aren’t monolithic,” Reeves said, noting that women of color face additional hurdles in their advancement. “There are different issues and challenges we face.”
Nate Saint-Victor, an executive director in the legal and compliance division of Morgan Stanley, noted that racial and gender bias is “still widespread” in corporate legal departments as well. Saint-Victor said mentoring women of color has been an effective tool, but he noted that every attorney in the position to do so has an “obligation to pursue a meritocratic environment within your organization.”
“You can’t be who you can’t see,” Saint-Victor noted, explaining that promoting diverse and women partners who “aren’t just tokens” can be an inspiration to associates hoping to move up through a firm.
Adrienne Gonzalez, a lead in the BOLD People & Business Resource Group at Bristol-Myers Squibb, said her company partners with law firms to groom diverse lawyers. According to Gonzalez, Bristol-Myers Squibb has also adapted a business model to reflect the country’s changing landscape and promote inclusiveness internally as well as with its outside counsel.
“What we know is that by 2050, this country will be more than 50 percent African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic,” Gonzalez said. “We have to be responsive to the fact that the country is changing. We can’t keep using the same formula, we need to evolve.”
Posted Oct 21, 2016 03:05 pm CDT
A proposal to tighten bar passage rate standards for ABA-approved law schools was passed Friday by the council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.
Under the proposal for Standard 316, 75 percent of the graduates must pass a bar exam within a two-year period. The proposal is expected to go the ABA House of Delegates in February 2017. Most council members voted in favor of the proposal; an exact vote count was not available at press time.
With the current standard, there are various ways a law school can be in compliance. One is that that at least 75 percent of graduates from the five most recent calendar years have passed a bar exam, or there’s a 75 percent pass rate for at least three of those five years. Also, a school can be in compliance if just 70 percent of its graduates pass the bar at a rate within 15 percentage points of the average first-time bar pass rate for ABA-approved law school graduates in the same jurisdiction for three out the five most recently completed calendar years.
No accredited law school has been out of compliance with the current “ultimate bar passage standard,” Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, told the council.
At an August hearing (PDF) about the proposal, various groups, including the National Black Law Students Association and a group of law school deans from institutions associated with historically black colleges and universities, expressed concern with how the proposed change could decrease diversity in the profession.
Greg Murphy, a Montana lawyer who chairs the council, stated the groups’ testimony included only anecdotal information and no data that backed up concerns expressed.
Diane Bosse, a New York-based council member, noted that New York broke out by race ABA-accredited law school graduates who took the state bar, and at no point did any of the groups’ first-time test taker pass rate fall below 75 percent.
Tests historically have been used to deny people in the black community opportunities, said council member Raymond Pierce, the former dean of the North Carolina Central University School of Law, which is associated with a historically black university. But he also noted that none of the country’s law schools associated with HBCUs are currently out of compliance with ABA accreditation. Over the years, Pierce said, he has noticed that many law schools opposed to minimum bar passage standards are not HBCUs.
“They were law schools that had bad bar passage rates and were putting HBCUs out in front. I’m offended by that,” says Pierce, a former deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Education who is now the chief education officer of the Global Teaching Project.
“HBCU law schools, we all started as institutions of opportunity because we were denied opportunities. These schools remain schools of opportunity, but it’s a little bit different,” said Pierce, who voted in favor of the proposal. “A law school should give a young man or a young lady an opportunity, but you don’t give them a false chance.”
Various council members acknowledged a tension between only admitting people who law schools think will be able to pass a bar exam, and meeting the 75 percent bar passage requirement.
“If we have schools that are taking in students who can not pass the bar, and they are not members of our profession, that is a concern. I think we have some accountability to those students,” said Cynthia Nance, a council member who voted against the proposal. Nance, a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law who previously served as the school’s dean, added that if someone failed the bar exam, they may want to wait a bit before they try again.
Within the proposal’s time frame, there would be four opportunities for a law school graduate to pass a bar exam.
“Some would say that we as a council are not doing our jobs with respect to policing law schools, and there are some schools that are taking in students they know will have very little possibility of passing the bar and being admitted into the profession. They’re accumulating large amounts of debt that they have no way to pay back,” said Maureen O’Rourke, the council’s chair elect and the dean of Boston University School of Law.
A challenge for the council, she added, is that its tasked with enforcing standards,which for the most part are not rules.
“Standards by their nature are fuzzy and hard to enforce,” said O’Rourke, who voted in favor of the proposal.
U.S. Supreme Court
Posted Oct 21, 2016 02:18 pm CDT
Justice Clarence Thomas is beginning his 26th year on the U.S. Supreme Court without Justice Antonin Scalia, who like Thomas was dedicated to an originalist interpretation of the Constitution.
Former law clerks and other defenders of Justice Clarence Thomas are highlighting his jurisprudence with a new website called JusticeThomas.com, USA Today reports. And there are differences between Thomas’ and Scalia’s views.
Former Thomas law clerk Neomi Rao says Thomas, in some ways, is “a more thoroughgoing originalist” than Scalia was. Thomas “is more willing to go back and overturn precedents, to go back and find the original meaning of the Constitution,” Rao tells USA Today.
In his years on the court, Thomas, 68, has opposed power concentrated in the hands of bureaucrats by rejecting precedent that gives deference to federal agency interpretations of law, according to the article. He opposes racial preferences, saying affirmative action programs begin with the notion that blacks are inferior.
He isn’t the type to write landmark decisions that require compromise to gather a majority, says Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet. Thomas’ decisions for the court are more likely to be technical, unanimous decisions, he told USA Today.
Thomas often writes concurrences or dissents. In the last two terms, he wrote 37 dissents and 25 concurrences, which is nearly twice the number written by any other justice. There could be more of them if the court gains a liberal majority, the article points out.
Thomas apparently relishes his role, according to the article. “I never thought that I would treasure doing my job, and I’ve reached that point,” he said at a Federalist Society dinner in 2013. “Even the most boring cases to others are fascinating to me.”
Posted Oct 21, 2016 11:01 am CDT
Clowns aren’t wanted in Kemper County, Mississippi.
County supervisors passed an ordinance banning anyone from appearing in public in a clown costume, clown mask or clown makeup, report the Associated Press and the Kemper County Messenger. The penalty for a violation is up to $150.
Kemper County Sheriff James Moore had sought the ordinance following a spate of creepy clown troubles in the United States. Police have arrested youths who made threats to commit crimes while dressed as clowns as well as people who made false creepy clown claims.
Lee Rowland, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer in New York, tells AP that most clothing choices are protected by the First Amendment. She also said dictating Halloween costumes is “a ridiculous use of government authority.”
The Kemper County ordinance expires Nov. 1.
Posted Oct 21, 2016 10:28 am CDT
A federal judge in Denver is allowing a group called Free the Nipple to pursue their lawsuit challenging a Fort Collins ban on women exposing their breasts in public.
U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson allowed the group and two of its members to sue for alleged violations of the equal protection clause, the Denver Post reports.
The ordinance bars public exposure of the breast below the top of the areola and nipple, except for girls under age 10 or women who are breastfeeding.
Free the Nipple had claimed the ban perpetuates stereotypes about girls and women that deem their breasts to be “primarily objects of sexual desire.” Jackson said in her ruling (PDF) the argument adequately states an equal protection violation.
Jackson tossed a First Amendment claim, however, saying the plaintiffs “have not adequately stated that there is a great likelihood that their nudity’s message about the sexualized nature of certain laws is likely to be understood by those who view them topless in public.”
By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Elder Care Attorney
Recently, a client, who lives in New York, was seeking to have a power of attorney document notarized in New York even though his mother, whom he was assuming power of attorney over, lived in New Jersey. While it is possible for notarized documents to be recognized out of state as being notarized, a notary’s jurisdiction is bound to the state of physical witness and presence. This is codified in New York Executive Law, which states that “notaries in this state shall have a jurisdiction that is co-extensive with the boundaries of the state.” The power of attorney was prepared in New Jersey for a resident living in New Jersey. The document should therefore be notarized by someone who has the jurisdiction to notarize New Jersey documents, which New York notaries do not have. Therefore, the New York notary cannot legally notarize her document.
Interestingly, other states have different laws when it comes to notaries. Kentucky, for example, allows notaries to apply for a special commission to notarize documents outside of the state as long as they are recorded in Kentucky. Notaries in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming have the ability to notarize documents in each other’s states. In Washington D.C. and Virginia, any resident or person who is employed in the state but lives somewhere else may apply to become a notary public. Check out the laws where you live to see how notarization works for you and how your state recognizes notaries.
To discuss your NJ Elder Care matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.
Posted Oct 20, 2016 05:12 pm CDT
Labor and employment giants Littler Mendelsohn continued its European expansion, announcing its arrival in France by joining with Paris and Lyon labor and employment firm Fromont Briens.
On Monday, the firm revealed that it had entered into a Swiss verein-style combination with the 170-lawyer Fromont Briens. The combination is Littler’s second major move into Europe, following an October 2015 combination with Vangard, a German labor and employment boutique firm.
According to Jeremy Roth, co-president and co-managing director of Littler, the move into France was one of several moves the firm was considering. Roth says that the firm considered Spain, as well as the United Kingdom—albeit before the Brexit complicated matters there. “France is, obviously, one of the most important countries in Western Europe, and their economy is quite strong,” Roth says. “There are a lot of global companies based there or have significant operations there. The labor laws are also complex, especially for employers.”
Roth says that he and his partners at Littler were first introduced to the Fromont Briens team a little over two years ago. Additionally, the German-based attorneys in Littler Global have worked extensively with the Fromont Briens lawyers over the last year and, according to Roth, enthusiastically recommended them to Littler as a combination partner. After that, it took about six months for the deal to come together.
“What we’re looking for are pragmatic, business-focused lawyers that can work in English and give practical and timely advice to clients,” Roth says.
When it comes to branding, Roth says that on local issues, Fromont Briens will likely stick with its own name and brand, but that on global matters, it will use the “Littler Global” brand name to market itself. In fact, Roth points out that Fromont Briens will now be the second-largest member of Littler Global, the overarching verein that includes Littler’s offices and combinations in North, South and Central America as well as Western Europe.
“We have no desire to deprive them of their local brand name, but this is a bigger operation now, and we’re talking about global clients,” says Roth. “We need to make sure we’re operating under a single brand that can be advanced based on the quality of our platform and the consistency of our offerings.”
The move into France was the latest step in Littler’s rapid worldwide expansion plan that began in 2010. In October of that year, Littler ventured outside of the United States for the first time, opening an office in Caracas, Venezuela. Since then, Littler has opened offices or entered into verein-style combinations throughout the Americas, including Mexico in 2012 and Canada in 2015. The October 2015 union with Vangard in Germany was the firm’s first entry into Europe.
Despite the presence of larger, more established European firms, Roth believes that Western Europe is a good market for Littler.
“What we’ve seen is that companies around the globe, if they can, would really like to reduce number of outside firms they rely on,” says Roth. “For a lot of companies, the transaction costs of hiring another law firm outweigh the benefits you get. Because of this convergence, we’ve determined that there is a market for us in Europe.”
To that end, Roth says that we can expect to see Littler Global expand even more into Europe. “I believe we will keep looking for other opportunities in Europe. We’ve found that once you make that initial move into a market, the market often responds positively, and other firms start approaching you to see if they might be able to explore some combination possibilities. I’m confident we will have additional combinations in the next 12 to 18 months throughout Western Europe.”
Posted Oct 20, 2016 04:31 pm CDT
The Federal Trade Commission has obtained court orders or default orders against 29 companies and individuals accused of selling skin-care products through misleading “risk-free trials.”
The defendants sold Auravie, Dellure, LéOR Skincare, and Miracle Face Kit skincare products, report ABC News and an FTC press release. The companies advertised “risk-free trials” and obtained credit card information, purportedly to pay shipping fees, the FTC said in its original lawsuit.
But the defendants used the credit card information to charge consumers up to $97.88 per month for unordered products, the FTC says. The orders bar the defendants from future deception and from selling products through a “negative option” in which silence is interpreted as consent to buy goods and services.
The orders require the defendants to give up virtually all of their assets to the FTC, an amount that is more than $2.7 million, the FTC says.
Posted Oct 20, 2016 02:15 pm CDT
The staff attorney/law clerk accused of donning robes and ruling in traffic court cases is facing a criminal indictment, but she is determined to remain in the race for a judgeship in Cook County, Illinois, according to her lawyer.
Rhonda Crawford has been indicted on two criminal counts, according to lawyer Victor Henderson. He tells the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times that Cook County prosecutors told him of the indictment, but did not specify the charges.
Troubles are mounting for Crawford. Last Friday, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission sought Crawford’s immediate suspension and asked the state supreme court to block her from becoming a judge if she wins the election.
Crawford is running for a judgeship covering parts of Chicago and some suburbs. There is no opponent on the ballot, though another judge who had a temporary court appointment is mounting a write-in campaign for the seat.
Henderson said Crawford has no plans to drop out of the race. “She’s not going anywhere,” he told the Tribune. “She is going to fight the good fight.”
Crawford has said she wore the robes and sat in a judge’s chair Aug. 11 as part of a shadowing process, and she was always under the direction of the judge. The judge accused of allowing Crawford to take her place, Valarie Turner, has been removed from the bench and reassigned to administrative duties. Crawford was fired from her law clerk/staff attorney position at the courthouse in the Chicago suburb of Markham.
The ethics complaint filed against Crawford provide more details about the alleged incident. The complaint says that, near the end of her afternoon court call, Turner announced that “we’re going to switch judges” and gave her judicial robe to Crawford. Crawford didn’t correct the misstatement, put on the robes and took the bench, the complaint says. Turner stood behind Crawford.
Crawford granted a continuance in one traffic case and denied a continuance in another, after asking Turner if she could do so, the complaint alleges. That led the prosecutor to seek a dismissal, which Crawford granted, the complaint says. Crawford also granted the prosecutor’s next judicial motion.
The complaint also alleges that Crawford did not correct Turner when she told a prosecutor that Crawford was a judge, and she did not correct an officer in the courtroom who congratulated Crawford on her judgeship.
Turner later told the presiding judge investigating the incident that she thought Crawford was a judge, according to the Tribune account.
Posted Oct 20, 2016 01:12 pm CDT
New York’s top court has upheld the removal of a village judge who had a physical altercation with a student worker and “used his office and standing as a platform from which to bully and intimidate.”
In an Oct. 20 opinion (PDF), the New York Court of Appeals rejected former judge Alan Simon’s request that his punishment be lowered to a censure and that he be restored to judicial office. The Legal Profession Blog has highlights of the opinion. The New City Patch and the Associated Press have stories.
According to the opinion, Simon engaged in bullying, “ethnic smearing and name-calling.” He used a sanction to punish a legal services organization for a perceived slight. He threatened to hold various employees and officials in contempt without cause or process. And he displayed poor temperament, most significantly by engaging in the physical altercation.
Previous findings by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct provided more detail about the altercation. According to the commission, Simon was displeased because the mayor had hired, without his input, a college student to work in the court clerk’s office, and Simon didn’t want the student to be working with confidential documents.
Simon ordered the student employee to leave the office; the mayor told the employee to return. When Simon saw the student, he said he would issue a warrant for his arrest and asked multiple officers to make the arrest. They did not comply.
Simon then said he would arrest the student himself and began arraigning the employee. Simon grabbed the student’s forearm and tried to pull him out of the chair, according to the commission determination. At his ethics hearing, Simon said he only touched the student on his elbow.
Simon’s lawyer told AP his client is disappointed by the decision.