Heard and overheard

Heard and overheard

Salter, Leonard M

Two very important cases about college and law school admissions have recently been considered in the U.S. District Court in Michigan. In January 2001, U.S. District Judge Patrick Duggan held that the University of Michigan’s current use of affirmative action in undergraduate admissions was proper. An applicant is graded on a 150-point scale that includes race, athletic participation, quality essays, children of alumni, geographic origin and other criteria; those criteria have not been held discriminatory. With reference to the law school admission test, there is no point system, only an admission dean’s discretion.

In the law school case, the Center for Individual Rights, a Washington– based law firm is representing a white student who was denied admission; counsel argue that the law school employs double standards that favor minorities. According to Elizabeth Barry, deputy general counsel for the University of Michigan, a diverse enrollment in the law school aids the students to help comprehend issues from many perspectives. It is obvious that representing various clients in many-hued situations, it is obligatory that an attorney learn how to assess problems while standing in the shoes of another person.

Here is the reverse in this scrivener’s point of view. Terence Pell, a deputy executive of the Center, insists that arguing that skin color is an effective proxy form attitudes and experiences “is a noxious for of stereotyping.” It is to be noted that the Center brought suit in 1996 that ended affirmative action at the University of Texas law school.1

An interesting story about a young lawyer’s experiences after graduating from a prestigious law school and joining a litigation department in a Top Five-law firm in New York City came to my attention. Our heroine found, after a year and a half, that the glamorous work she had looked for was not available to her. Instead of going to court, taking depositions and other interesting activities, she spent a good deal of her time in an office, writing and re-writing internal memos and contributing legal research documents. This was not the life that my young lawyer was looking to pursue. She ruminated that after making all the risk-averse choices-Ivy League schools, a big law firm-she felt that there was a shortfall in professional experience, personal growth and prestige.

Our subject left her large, prestigious law firm for a smaller boutique firm, which she found more satisfactory. Within months, she was taking depositions, attending hearings in court and drafting motions, without major intervention. She felt she was learning to be a litigator and was adding strength to a team; she felt expanded. However, after some further self– examination, our heroine determined that the lifestyle sacrifices, plus the uncertain path to partnership, did not permit her to expand her soul.

Out heroine once more changed her way of life. She has become a legal recruiter helping lawyers to search for and find what they really want to do. She claims that prestige, money, and personal growth are all powerful forces which she has battled. She is now a professional guide and finds it challenging to help others do the same.2

Elizabeth Warren teaches bankruptcy at the Harvard Law School. She and two colleagues recently published The Fragile Middle Class (Yale University Press, 2000), which indicates that behind most bankruptcy filings was misfortune, not profligate living. Prof. Warren claims that most people in bankruptcy were solid bill-payers until some critical event brought them to court. The loss of a job was the cause of two-thirds of the filings, for 40 percent it was a serious medical problem, and for 20 percent it was the result of a divorce. Prof. Warren raises the following important question: How much of the economic risk of job loss and medical problems should be borne individually and how much should be distributed among everyone? Our sherpa claims that the proportion of families that are failing economically in this new environment has increased four-fold in the past 20 years.

Prof. Warren is emphatic in her belief that most families need two incomes. If either spouse is unemployed, the chance that the family will have to file bankruptcy skyrockets by about 320 percent. The two– earner family is not a matter of choice but of economic necessity. Here are the danger signals as seen by our clear-sighted guru, which must be considered before the economy contracts the next time: The disastrous effect of allowing 125 percent debt consolidation mortgages and allowing lenders to charge rates of interest that were illegal just 20 years ago. Our sherpa also suggests that two changes might help in this oncoming explosion in the bankruptcy area: Better unemployment insurance and bankruptcy rules that permit families to survive and reconstruct their lives and finances.3

1. Jim Suhr, “Law School Admissions Tested.” The Boston Globe, December 22, 2000.

2. Carrie Mandel, “Living Outside the Law.” The New York Times, December 31, 2000.

3. David Cay Johnston, “Bankruptcy Borne of Misfortune, Not Excess.” The New York Times, September 3, 2000.

Leonard M. Salter

Chair Emeritus,

Board of Associate Editors

Copyright Commercial Law League of America Mar/Apr 2001

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