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September 19, 2003

Come Join Our Chat About Lawyer Snobbery

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 3:29 pm

Here’s a great example of cyber serendipity in the little virtual coffee shop we call the blawgosphere: A couple days ago, your Editor wrote about the Guild Mentality of the legal profession, and its tendency to reject innovation that’s seen as a threat to profits.  Scheherazade at Civil Procedure started up a correspondence that soon became focused on law student debt — how the need to pay off the debts created a pressure to choose more lucrative options over other career choices within the law, followed by “golden handcuffs” that seem to prevent changing to a more fulfilling practice.  


That was interesting enough, but my response got Sherry/Scheherazade wondering why the profession is so snobbish and puts certain elite schools and elite firms and forms of practice at its pinnacle.  The result was her posting Why Are Lawyers Such Snobs?   Over the next two days, a number of lawyers from various places (geographic, career, and philosophical), joined in with Comments.  This morning, the big e-kahuna himself, Ernie the Attorney, entered the conversation and pointed his legions in Scheherazade’s direction.  (Does It Matter Which Law School You Went To?)  And, Prof. Bainbridge sat down with the group, too (sipping a pre-lunch glass of wine perhaps).   As Ernie notes:

Both her story and [Alex Wellen’s story in his book Barman] are worth reading, and their observations about the practice of law should not be something that only young lawyers are interested in.

So, you’re all invited to pull up a cyber chair, click on the postings, follow the threads and, especially, add your insights or “incites”.  Here’s a taste of some of the conversation:

David Giacalone: 

[T]he best way to deal with snobbery is to ignore it. Unless your goal is to achieve maximum prestige, power and/or income, the fact that there’s a lot of snobbery in the profession should invoke bemusement and not frustration. Let them play their little ego games. Be grateful that you don’t have to see these people everyday and work with them — with everyone having to keep up the facade of superiority, and visiting their shrinks weekly.


David, the point I’m trying to make is that our profession, through a pervasive worship of credentials, makes it very hard to explore honestly (or even to consider) careers away from BIGLAW. People tell us that’s where the “interesting work” is and imply, explicitly or implicitly, that “ordinary” legal work for small businesses or consumers is somehow beneath us if we have brains and decent legal writing skills. So asking young lawyers to make other choices is asking us to choose a path that has been deemed intellectually less worthwhile by most of those we look up to.

Another Dave:

But if you base your decisions on “what people tell you,” then you’re ingoring the most important voice–your own. Sure, there are going to be snobs in law firms. But there are snobs everywhere–in business, in charities–it pervades our culture. You just have to blissfully ignore those people. You’ll be much happier when you do.

Do work that is fulfilling to you, the rest be damned.

David Giacalone response:

Yes, Dave has it exactly right. It’s too bad that most people graduate from law school before they’re mature (experienced? confident?) enough to listen to that voice, or to even have a clear voice inside letting them know who they really are. Instead, they only hear a peer group and a society that puts prestige, power and profit above personal fulfillment — or, actually thinks that those 3Ps will give you personal fulfillment.

That’s all the better reason to live frugally while experimenting with big-time law practice — then, you won’t have those golden manacles when you discover who you really want to be.

Don’t be shy.  Stop on by.

P.S.  Sherry (a/k/a Scheherazade) Fowler’s weblog is way to interesting to have a name like Civil Procedure.  I hereby start a campaign to have the blawg’s name officially changed to Scheherazade’s Civil Procedure.  Otherwise, some unsuspecting lawyer drone will be exposed unexpectedly to fresh ideas and enjoyable writing.  Like Queen Scheherezade in The Arabian Nights, Sherry is a skilled storyteller and not some mere civil procedure expert.  (Someday, I hope to find out why some people spell Scheherazade with two a’s, while others just one.)

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