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Inequality in the Legal Academy – Gaining Insight into the Unequal Profession

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, many U.S. law schools published messages supporting social justice and anti-racism, including promoting the role of law schools in educating students to become agents for change.1 These statements were generally outward-facing, aimed at addressing the experiences of people of color in communities and organizations outside of the schools. But internally, law schools reflect the racial and gender hierarchies permeating the legal profession and society generally, and this in turn frames their role in shaping future lawyers’ perceptions about who belongs in the legal profession. The faculty exerts an overarching influence on this question of belonging both through its own composition and in the language and agenda communicated through teaching.2

Meera Deo explores these dynamics in her book, Unequal Profession, which focuses on women of color law professors. By capturing the voices of this particular group of law professors and contextualizing them in an organizational and comparative context, the book makes a crucial contribution to understanding the divide between the experiences and career paths characteristic of women of color and those of their colleagues.3

It is among women of color that the effects of structural racism are most acutely felt, and where being a member of an elite organization does not offset being “othered.” Women of color are “doubly marginalized;” Deo uses the term “raceXgender” to indicate intersectionality, or the “compound effects often caused by holding multiple devalued identity characteristics.” (P. 8.) “Compound” is the operative word here, signifying the magnification that is at the heart of intersectionality.

Deo, a sociolegal scholar, draws on in-depth interviews with 63 women of color law professors selected to “reflect diversity in a number of domains, including race/ethnicity, age, tenure status, leadership status, public vs. private institution, selectivity of institution, and region.” (P. 172.) When Deo began gathering data, nearly 80% of the 9,759 law faculty occupying positions of tenured, tenure-track, clinical, deans, associate and vice deans at ABA-approved law schools identified as Caucasian; women of color represented 9.6% of the group, white women 32% and men of color 9.4%. In the course of her research, she interviewed nearly 7% of women of color in this pool of law faculty, and attempted to include individuals from different vantage points of race, ethnicity and other individual and school-level characteristics in order to “include appropriate numbers from each group to ensure a diverse range of opinions in the final study.” (P. 172.) Her work is enhanced by its comparative framework, offered through additional interviews with 11 men of color, 11 white women and 8 white men. (Table 1, P. 10.) These permit readers to consider what Kimberlé Crenshaw has described as “all of the ways our systems reproduce these inequalities, and that includes the privileges as well as the harms” – meaning expanding attention beyond “unfair exclusion but also [to] . . . unearned inclusion.”4

Deo’s interviews inform an analysis of the hiring and entry process, issues related to collegiality, relationships with students, tenure and promotion, leadership and work/life balance. I’ll offer just a couple of examples in an attempt to highlight the richness of the book.

In the context of hiring, experiences were in line with findings from other settings,5 with women of color describing being perceived as “a political – not an academic – appointment” (P. 23.) and as “the ‘dumb one,’ sort of an affirmative action hire in the worst sense of the word [meaning . . . unqualified, but hired because of . . . race and gender].” (P. 24.) One of these women saw her new colleagues shower favoritism on a white male hired at the same time; Deo describes this informant “internaliz[ing] her colleagues’ intersectional discrimination until she too ‘felt like he was the real deal, and I’m not.’” (P. 24.) While these experiences did not necessarily upend the careers of Deo’s informants, they tainted their perceptions, even forcing them to question whether it was worthwhile to remain in academia. (P. 46.)

In a chapter on relationships with students, Deo’s interviewees highlight a number of common challenges, including being “overburdened by service” to the law school and particularly to students, on one hand, but also experiencing “open hostility and even gender-based physical intimidation at the hands of white male students” on the other hand. (Pp. 58-59, 64.)

Overburdening in this context reflects that women of color faculty are wanted by law students as mentors and advisors, even when they do not share a classroom relationship. (P. 59.) One interviewee described being sought out by students who “likely . . . ‘feel comfortable and they seek my help,’” which she attributed to her approach in class of addressing “real-life legal implications of the law [as well as] relevant context . . . of substantive law through diversity discussions.” (P. 59.) Overburdening is common for women of color (and women generally) in other contexts, too.6 And while “[a] small percentage of men of color share the experience of their female counterparts of being inundated by student requests . . . . [,] most men in the . . . sample do not.” (Pp. 72-73.)

Hostility, on the other hand, reflects the mismatch of students’ expectations and reality. As one of Deo’s informants described, students’ “’image is the white male professor who scares them, and that’s just not a model that I can follow. Not being a white male, and not really being privileged enough to be able to scare them.’” (P. 60.) This mismatch sometimes led to open hostility in the classroom, which bled over into teaching evaluations, too. (Pp. 61, 69-70.) In contrast, for white male faculty the challenge was limited to “mastering the material, not fighting to earn [students’] respect.” (P. 74.) This divide is nicely captured in an explanation of the difference in how two professors – one a women of color and the other a white man –responded when a student poses a complicated question in class. The woman of color offered an in-depth and complex response to the student, while the white male colleague indicated he would have said “’I don’t know, I’m going to have to get back to you on that,’ which [the black female law professor interviewee explained as] the privilege of being a white man; you can say, ‘I don’t know,’ and it’s not going to damn you to being the ignorant law professor. But I don’t have that privilege.” (P. 74.)

In exploring the topic of collegiality, Deo unpacks various ways in which white male privilege leads to silencing and invisibility for women of color. These include mansplaining (“[w]hen men take it upon themselves to interpret for women or explain to women, [indicating their assumption] that a woman is simply ‘an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge’”), hepeating (“when a man simply repeats what a woman has already said, claiming and accepting credit for her original thoughts and words”) and whitesplaining (signaling that “[w]hite validation of [the] suggestions or observations [of a woman of color] would give them more weight, highlighting ongoing white privilege”). The combined effect of these tactics conveys the message that “women do not belong, should know their place, and remain silent.” (P. 45.)

It is no wonder, then, that in this climate Deo’s interviewees describe feeling the need to “suppress their emotions at work to succeed.” (P. 47.) But it isn’t only emotions that they must suppress. They described having to present themselves to colleagues and students as synced with the norms of the law school and their roles there, despite the fact that these felt foreign and in conflict with their experiences. (Pp. 47-48.) These descriptions are consistent with other research on women in the legal profession, including Joyce Sterling and Linda Chanow’s exploration of why women leave practice. A Black female lawyer explained to Sterling and Chanow that she had to conform to white culture by being more open about her experiences and background in order to be accepted enough to advance in her firm.7  Tsedale Melaku describes this sort of pretense and transformation as part of the concept of an “inclusion tax,” meaning “the additional resources black women are forced to ‘spend’ such as time, money, and emotional and mental energy to be included in white spaces.”8

Deo tries to leave her readers with some hope for the future, including through a discussion of the importance of mentors and supportive professional networks, two factors that were mentioned repeatedly by her informants as having enormous consequence. In addition, she stresses the importance of intentional and focused action by law school deans and other leaders to create awareness of the effects of existing policies and practices. Deo’s book is one part of the growing body of research and reporting on race and gender in the US, and by focusing exclusively on law faculty – and specifically on those in power in the hierarchical structure of legal education (and higher education generally) – she has positioned this book as a foundation for law faculties to consider how their histories, policies and structures marginalize and exclude. Unequal Profession elucidates that even as law schools aim to promote justice and equality in other contexts, there is much work to do internally to reach these goals.

  1. Karen Sloan, Law Schools Have an ‘Obligation’ to Help End Racism and Injustice, Deans Argue, Nat’l L.J., June 2, 2020.
  2. See generally Elizabeth Mertz, The Language of Law School: Learning to “Think Like a Lawyer” (2007) (analyzing implicit lessons embedded in U.S. legal education).
  3. Deo’s study is restricted to faculty with tenure or on the tenure track. While this is a limiting choice, it also may strengthen the power of her findings by eliminating the potential for readers to attribute disparities between women of color and others to differences in status or even to perceptions that status implicates quality.
  4. Katy Steinmetz, She Coined the Term ‘Intersectionality’ Over 30 Years Ago. Here’s What It Means to Her Today, Time, Feb. 20, 2020.
  5. Nadia Owusu, Women of Color in Academia Often Work Harder for Less Respect, Catapult, Feb. 26, 2020 (describing the effects of reverse racism); Tsedale M. Melaku, You Don’t Look Like A Lawyer (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 2019) (describing negative consequences of being perceived as an “affirmative action hire”).
  6. See Laura E. Hirshfield & Tiffany D. Joseph, ‘We need a woman, we need a black woman’: gender, race, and identity taxation in the academy, 24 Gender & Educ. 213 (2011) (describing overburdening of faculty of color outside of the law school context).
  7. The lawyer explained: ‘It’s not our culture to be vocal about who we are, what our background is. But I’ve learned that very early on, in order for you to advance, people have to know who you are. You’ve gotta share bits and pieces of your background.’” Joyce Sterling & Linda Chanow, In Their Own Words: Experienced Women Lawyers Explain Why They Are Leaving Their Law Firms and the Profession, commissioned by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession (forthcoming).
  8. Melaku, supra note 5, at 3.
Cite as: Carole Silver, Inequality in the Legal Academy – Gaining Insight into the Unequal Profession, JOTWELL (January 8, 2021) (reviewing Meera E. Deo, Unequal Profession: Race and Gender in Legal Academia (2019)),

Are Prosecutors Ethically Responsible for Producing Defender Overload?

Irene Joe, Regulating Mass Prosecution, 53 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1175 (2020).

In Regulating Mass Prosecution, Irene Joe seeks to shift the framework for assessing the causes of and solutions to mass incarceration, by spotlighting the role of prosecutors and their ethical duties to maintain fairness, loyalty, and competence. The core thrust of Joe’s argument is that prosecutors should be understood to have ethical limits on the pursuit of charges against defendants based on the systemic impact of charging decisions in producing public defender case overload. Moving beyond well-rehearsed arguments about the prosecutor’s duty to seek “justice,” Joe adopts a systematic ethical approach, focusing on the “role that the prosecutor plays in creating” the caseload crisis (P. 1183). She thereby makes a novel link between the ethics of prosecution and that of public defense, illuminating the “cumulative effect that . . . discretionary charging decisions have on the public defender’s ability to provide ethical and professional representation.” (P. 1184.) Having made this link, she then turns to the ethics rules as “a sword and a shield for reformist prosecutors to use in addressing the caseload crisis in indigent defense.” (P. 1184.)

In her ethics analysis, Joe is mindful of the deeply complex nature of the prosecutor’s charging decision: an exercise of discretion in which the prosecutor determines to pursue charges supported by probable cause. As Joe points out, in making this decision, a prosecutor is generally motivated to act by the duty to advance the interests of justice, but other factors sometimes creep in, such as implicit bias or the prosecutor’s self-interest in achieving a high “win” rate or currying favor with the judge. Where Joe fundamentally departs from convention is by showing how individual charging decisions permit prosecutors to shape “the size and scope of the criminal justice system,” thereby placing the public defender in a “reactive” posture, unable to adequately control his or her caseload—and thus undermining defendants’ access to justice. Joe recognizes, of course, that prosecutors do not deal exclusively with public defenders, whose work focuses on the representation of indigent defendants constitutionally entitled to counsel. What Joe wants us to appreciate is that prosecutorial discretion, by affecting the aggregate number of cases in the system, has particular impacts on the caseloads of public defenders, who must take cases assigned to them in this expanding system and are heavily overburdened.1

Most significantly, Joe argues that these problems create ethical concerns for the prosecutor: namely, that by bringing charges, prosecutors are contributing to the ethics violations of public defenders. In addition, Joe suggests that prosecutors may also violate a host of other rules, including those requiring fairness to opposing counsel (Rule 3.4), since a “charge practice that overwhelms the public defender risks violating this rule and the rationale that lawyers should not seek every advantage regardless of the impact on the opposing counsel.” (P. 1215.) This is no trifling argument. Rather, it is a significant reconceptualization of prosecutorial role, pushing for creative interpretations of the rules to make them do more work for systemic reform. In this vein, Joe pushes the rules even further, suggesting that the prosecutor’s own self-interest in winning cases could produce a loyalty violation: “If a prosecutor knows that charging a high number of cases will render a public defender little more than a plea machine, then the charging practice could be the result of self-interest as guilty pleas result in convictions.” (P. 1221.)

This is an important scholarly turn, in which Joe seeks to take seriously the fact that all of the rules apply to prosecutors, and to use that fact to force prosecutors to look at the degree to which their charging practice produces overload. To define what overload means, Joe suggests using as a benchmark the ABA’s existing metrics for determining appropriate caseloads, asserting that if charging decisions force public defenders to exceeding that level, prosecutors have a duty to stop. Her most provocative argument is that there is “a very real possibility that, under Model Rule 8.4, a prosecutor may be culpable for knowingly assisting or inducing public defenders to commit rules violations.” (P. 1232.) Mind you, this is a novel, dare I say, radical interpretation, which has not been entertained by bar discipline committees or courts. But that is precisely what makes it so interesting and powerful.

This piece, which seeks to shift the responsibility for dealing with defender overload (at least in part) out of the political arena, raises significant questions that demand serious attention. For instance, how would this new approach to prosecutor ethics be operationalized? Since nearly all public defenders are overloaded, would Joe’s proposal require every charging decision to be scrutinized by bar disciplinary committees in order to assess whether and how they contribute to defender case overload? In developing Joe’s proposal, it is important to consider how charging decisions would be monitored in a comprehensive manner.

Joe’s proposal also raises thorny questions about the relationship between the prosecutor’s ethical violations and those of public defenders themselves. Specifically, Joe presumes that the prosecutor is vulnerable to disciplinary charges precisely because public defenders are committing their own rule violations as a result of overload. This leads to one to wonder: If bars were going to go after prosecutors under the theory that Joe prescribes, would they also have to start disciplining the public defenders as well?

There are other important, unresolved ethics issues. If prosecutors decided against bringing charges in order to avoid contributing to case overload, could they be vulnerable to ethics violations for not pursuing charges against defendants who deserved to be prosecuted? Joe’s overarching response to these operational issues is to suggest that prosecutors realign charging to target the most serious crimes and promote community interests. (P. 1241.) This, she suggests, would reduce the overall footprint of prosecutors’ offices in ways that would ameliorate the overload problem and permit defenders to provide the effective assistance of counsel to which they are professionally and constitutionally bound.

At bottom, in this moment of political uprising and calls for transformative change, Joe’s analysis provides a clarion call for major reform. With the no indictments issued in the Breonna Taylor case, prosecutorial discretion is back at the center of debate about racial justice in the criminal system and Joe’s article reminds us that unchecked discretion may continue to produce significant harms to the subjects of criminal prosecution who are disproportionately low-income and people of color. Significantly, Joe is asking bar associations to think of their rule enforcement in structural terms and push forward an agenda that addresses massive, ongoing unfairness in the criminal justice system. Of course, her preferred solution would be a reduction in the footprint of policing and prosecution, and adequate funding for defenders to provide effective assistance of course. However, if legislatures around the country will not devote more money to adequately fund defender officers, she asks the profession itself to step into a vanguard role. Of course, this may itself be a provocation: the threat of ethics prosecution of prosecutors may spur defender funding to avoid that outcome. In that sense, the central contribution is to open up a debate around how prosecutors might be responsible for defender ethics violations in ways that may jumpstart discussion within the bar toward a more collective response. In this sense, the article offers not simply a novel ethics diagnosis and prescription. It asks all lawyers to contribute to criminal justice reform with anti-racist consequences.

  1. See, e.g., Richard A. Oppel, Jr. & Jugal K. Patel, One Lawyer, 194 Felony Cases, and No Time, N.Y. Times, Jan. 31, 2019; see also Alexa Van Brunt, Poor People Rely on Public Defenders Who are Too Overworked to Defend Them, Guardian, June 17, 2015.
Cite as: Scott Cummings, Are Prosecutors Ethically Responsible for Producing Defender Overload?, JOTWELL (November 25, 2020) (reviewing Irene Joe, Regulating Mass Prosecution, 53 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1175 (2020)),

The Future of Attorney Regulation

Bruce A. Green, Bar Authorities and Prosecutors, Oxford Press Handbook of Prosecutors and Prosecutions (Ronald F. Wright, Kay L. Levine, and Russell M. Gold eds., 2020), available at SSRN.

Bruce Green’s new book chapter explores the regulation of prosecutors in the United States. It convincingly argues that, although the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct (“Rules”), as adopted by the various states, formally apply to all lawyers, they have little practical impact on prosecutors’ practice.

The Rules have limited practical significance for prosecutors for three related reasons. First, many of the Rules do not apply to prosecutors’ practice realities. Some of the inapplicable Rules are intuitive. For example, Rule 1.5 can’t apply to prosecutors because prosecutors do not charge clients fees, and Rules 7.1-7.3 do not apply because prosecutors neither advertise not solicit for their services. Professor Green establishes in a fascinating section, however, that even Rules that could apply to prosecutors, such as Rule 1.6 (confidentiality), Rules 1.7-1.10 (conflicts of interest) and Rule 1.1 (competence) have been construed narrowly and generically to mirror other obligations that apply to prosecutors such as criminal procedure rules. Second, Rules that do directly apply to prosecutors’ practice, such as Rule 3.8 on prosecutors’ special responsibilities, and Rule 4.2, which forbids lawyers from communicating directly with represented individuals, have been construed narrowly to merely codify prosecutors’ constitutional obligations. The third and final problem is one of enforcement. The Rules are hardly enforced against prosecutors—giving these lawyers particularly wide berth.

Amid the ongoing trend of increased lawyer specialization, some have called on bar authorities to abandon their current one-size-fits-all regulatory approach and instead develop separate codes of conduct for lawyers in different specialized areas of practice. Indeed, prosecutors are likely the prime candidates for such specialized regulation. Not only are they “ministers of justice” and not mere advocates (see, Rule 3.8 cmt. 1), but they are generally not subject to demanding market and institutional controls. As Green astutely puts it, “[p]rosecutors do not interact with, advise or take direction from, an individual client or a representative of an institutional client.” (P. 7.) And yet, bar authorities insist on preserving the myth of the “unified bar.” Even in the face of external public pressure and critiques of prosecutorial misconduct, the ABA, committed to representing and serving all lawyers (including prosecutors), ended up deciding to avoid an internal battle with a powerful constituent and opted for a conciliatory tone vis-à-vis prosecutors. This results in what Green aptly calls the unfulfilled regulatory promise of the bar: although the ABA has acknowledged that the normative expectations for prosecutors should be more demanding than that of other attorneys, its Rules fail to deliver on this expectation leaving prosecutors underregulated.

Moreover, Professor Green shows that on the rare occasions in which the ABA and bar authorities have tried to promulgate more stringent Rules for prosecutors, they have been repeatedly stymied. In particular, they have run up against effective opposition by federal and state prosecutors, which demonstrates the bar’s limited political influence, and further explains its reluctance to pick up a fight with prosecutors.

Bar Authorities and Prosecutors is a fantastic primer on attorney regulation and will be of great interest not only to prosecutors, defense counsel and judges but also to anyone interested in the effective regulation of the legal profession. Professor Green’s insightful analysis of the regulation of prosecutors raises broad and fundamental questions about the future of attorney regulation, and, in particular, about the dominant role of the ABA in promulgating the Rules. To begin with, the ABA’s insistence on a one-size-fits-all regulatory approach in the face of increased specialization may result in the under-regulation of lawyers. Simply put, having the same set of rules apply to all lawyers may practically mean that the Rules end up being too abstract and inapplicable to the practice realities of most lawyers, prosecutors included. There are, to be sure, compelling arguments in favor of a unified regulatory approach, including clarity, certainty, the relative ease of promulgation, and the emphasis of core professional principles. Yet Green’s analysis suggests that the day may come (or perhaps, the day has come) in which increased specialization will render the one-size-fits-all regulatory approach an outdated relic.

Next, Green’s nuanced analysis questions whether the ABA is the most effective regulator of attorney conduct. The point is not merely that the ABA serves the interests of the legal profession and, as a result, may shy away from imposing stringent regulations on its constituents. Rather, as Green compellingly shows, because the ABA purports to regulate and serve all lawyers it is bound to try to please and placate all of its members and avoid controversies or hard-to-win internal battles, especially where, as here, the regulated members are powerful and organized. Given the limited scope of his inquiry in this chapter – the regulation of prosecutors – Green wisely stops short of calling for a radical reform in terms of who regulates lawyers in the United States. Certainly, there are pertinent advantages the ABA has as the leading force in promulgating the Rules, for example, experience and expertise in regulating lawyers’ professional conduct. Nonetheless, Green’s examination of the ABA’s “unfulfilled promise” (P. 21) regarding the regulation of prosecutors raises an overdue question about the ABA’s ability to tackle significant and controversial regulatory challenges pertaining to its members.

Finally, Bar Authorities and Prosecutors sheds a revealing light on how institutions of the legal profession, such as bar associations, courts, and law firms, influence the professional work of lawyers and the regulation of law practice. Rather than focus merely on promulgation and enforcement, Green demonstrates that effective regulation (or lack thereof, in the case of prosecutors) is a function of a complex interplay of factors. These include the political power and clout of the regulatory targets, the willingness of the regulator to pick internal fights and wage external battles and its fortitude to see them through, the interaction between regulatory controls and market and institutional controls, and the size, culture and ethos of law firms (private and public) and their inclination and ability to support or undercut applicable rules.

In sum, Bruce Green’s new book chapter sets out to examine the regulation of American prosecutors (Pp. 1-2) and ends up accomplishing so much more. It effectively summarizes the regulation of prosecutors in the United States, including its shortcomings and its stickiness. The paper also examines the future of attorney regulation more generally. In the process, Green raises compelling questions about the effectiveness of the traditional one-size-fits-all regulatory approach and the dominant role of the ABA as the Rules’ promulgator, and he sketches a convincing blueprint for an effective regulatory alternative.

Cite as: Eli Wald, The Future of Attorney Regulation, JOTWELL (October 23, 2020) (reviewing Bruce A. Green, Bar Authorities and Prosecutors, Oxford Press Handbook of Prosecutors and Prosecutions (Ronald F. Wright, Kay L. Levine, and Russell M. Gold eds., 2020), available at SSRN),

Masters of the Code

I teach at a school most of whose graduates take jobs, at least for a few years, as associates in one of the 100 largest corporate law firms. Until their first stint as summer clerks, and even for some time thereafter, most of them know very little about the work firm lawyers do. Law schools don’t do much to enlighten them on these matters. Scholarly treatments of the social effects of business lawyering are rare. We have, of course, plenty of scholarship on substantive fields of business law – corporate law, tax, securities, intellectual property, and so forth. Sometimes practitioners come into our classrooms to help students understand how to structure corporate deals, such as a merger or initial public offering.  These are useful forms of training, but not much help if we are trying to understand the social and economic contributions of corporate lawyers. What is their role in society? What value do they add or as their critics would ask, subtract? Katharina Pistor, The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality, identifies both the positive and the negative in their work.

The business lawyers I habitually talk to tend to respond rather vaguely to questions about their social functions. They identify themselves as among the professionals in the legal-and-financial-services industry like accountants, underwriters, or insurers who provide technical services to implement business decisions and deals of their clients. “We grease the wheels of capitalism” is a common phrase, or, as a law firm partner interviewing me for a job once put it, “We are the pants pressers for American business.” This formula identifies the lawyers’ role as auxiliary to the real movers and shakers, the entrepreneurs and investment bankers and managers of capital. Other business lawyers describe their job primarily as that of risk-managers: they help their clients identify sources of “legal risk,” such as potential adverse litigation, or regulatory and tax consequences of decisions. Competent risk managers, of course, aren’t just doom-and-gloom merchants: they try to help their clients structure their dealings so as facilitate their taking “good risks” and to avoid or minimize “bad risks.” Still others – often litigators – identify corporate lawyers with the classic paradigm of the libertarian champion of the free market, or the heroic defense lawyer resisting the authoritarian state and the greedy faux-populist plaintiffs’ bar. Rather less flattering accounts are sometimes heard from businesspeople who cast lawyers as operators of a vast protection racket, creators of dense complex webs of regulation that their expensive technical skills are then required to navigate.

In 1984, Ronald Gilson made a path-breaking contribution to theorizing the social function of the work-product of business lawyers, or at least of some business lawyers, with his Value Creation by Business Lawyers: Legal Skills and Asset Pricing, 94 Yale L.J. 239 (1984). He characterized the lawyers’ role in helping to structure business deals as that of “transaction cost engineers” who help to reduce the frictions of deal-making, e.g., by helping the parties to anticipate and provide for common risks and information asymmetries.

Now comes Katharina Pistor of the Columbia Law School, with a more ambitious theory. She promotes corporate lawyers from the role of helpful auxiliaries to that of masters of the “Code of Capital,” the legal modules that constitute capitalist economies and ensure their generation of wealth. “[M]ost observers treat law as a sideshow when in fact it is the very cloth from which capital is cut.” (P. 4.) Assets are turned into capital by legal coding, which confers on it the four attributes of priority, durability, universality, and convertibility. A legal claim that has priority is one that trumps others, such as priority in bankruptcy. Durability is the extension of priority claims in time, such as was conferred on landed wealth when it was protected by mortgage law and settlements in trust from being fully lost to creditors, or is now possessed by corporate owners with immortal life. Universality means rights against all the world. And convertibility is the legal guarantee that an asset can readily be turned into money. “There is no capital without law, because only law can bestow priority, durability, convertibility, and universality on assets, and thereby privilege its holders.” (P. 229.) Corporate law practice – some of it, anyway – is the business of combining and recombining these modules to create wealth and shield it from diminution – as, for example, corporation law is used to parcel assets and operations of an integrated economic entity in ways that lower the cost of debt finance, and minimize taxes and regulatory costs. (P. 47.)

Pistor’s account of legal coding relies on a rich store of examples taken both from history and from current practice. Her story of how land became the most important source of wealth in England focuses on the enclosure of common fields and the “strict settlement” devised by English country solicitors to protect these newly privatized assets from creditors. The sequel is the “second enclosure movement” in modern intellectual property law, the enterprise to convert knowledge and even Nature herself into capital assets. Her chapter on the legal alchemy that mints debt into capital assets starts with the scheme to securitize the debts of Junker landowners under Frederick the Great. Landowners joined the Landschaft, an association that assumed joint liability for payment of debts, and in return got certificates they could use to pay off debts to other creditors, backed by a guarantee from the King. (P. 93.) She then updates her principal thesis with detailed recent examples. One is Lehman Brothers, which created a huge number of special purpose sub-entities. These vehicles incurred debt, which the parent company guaranteed, using as collateral the shares it held in leveraged subsidiaries. The subs moved most profits back to the parent, leaving few assets for creditors. When Lehman went bankrupt, the guarantees disappeared, and the subs collapsed. The examples show how lawyers combine the modules – property law (rights to land and mortgages) and corporate law to partition assets, contract law to divide up the pool and sell different pieces to different investors. (P. 86.)

The next move for legal coders Pistor describes is going global. To simplify considerably, private parties can frequently minimize or escape states’ regulatory or taxing constraints by choosing their own law. Conflict-of-law rules generally allow sophisticated parties to specify what law will govern their deals, and most of them choose either New York or England. They may also choose tribunals, and many of them choose arbitration over adjudication, or investor-state dispute settlement tribunals outside their territories. (Ch. 6). If states impose regulatory restrictions, like labor or environmental or tax laws, coders just move the enterprise to a more favorable jurisdiction. (P. 160.)

As the operations of the legal code of capital create wealth for some, they also produce inequality. See, again, enclosure laws, which made it possible for landowners to finance improvements and speculative investments by borrowing against their land but also displaced and impoverished millions of commoners, who fled to America or Australia or to the slums and factories of the cities, or simply starved. Or, our IP laws permit pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs with the aid of taxpayer-financed research, patent them, and charge monopoly rents to health providers and consumers. The banks that securitized the mortgages of homeowners and sold them off in tranches to investors while taking extravagant fees for every transaction, left the owners with collapsed home values – and also made it so that the owners were still liable on their notes and subject to foreclosure. As Pistor says, supposedly negative rights against the state are actually “a claim for positive protection by the state against intrusion by others, including fellow citizens.” (P. 229.) Ordinary contract law is a mechanism whereby the strong can not only coerce the weak to surrender their rights, but also characterize the surrender as a voluntary choice that the weak have made, and the strong can pretend to disclose all possible risks so that suckers cannot claim they didn’t know about them. Besides these inequalities conferred by the general law, the well-heeled repeat players have exceptional access to lawyers, legal processes like litigation and arbitration and, not least, political influence. Some lawyers like to claim that they defend clients against state tyranny. But in fact much more lawyers’, and lobbyists, effort goes into seeking favors from the state: subsidies, privileges, contracts, exemptions from or limits on liability, and safe harbors from bankruptcy. Besides creating inequality, the coding of capital tends to create periodic crises, as speculative bubbles burst and optimistic predictions that property values will always keep rising or that emerging economies will not all go broke at once are falsified. But holders of the most privileged assets can usually count on the state to bail them out if the entire system is in peril of collapse. Gains are privatized, losses socialized.

Pistor’s account of the centrality of law and lawyers to wealth creation is a departure from standard economists’ accounts, which as she says treat law as a “sideshow.” It is closer to, but also different from, standard Marxist accounts, in which law is treated as epiphenomenal, part of the “superstructure” or “ideological state apparatus,” supporting and legitimating the ruling classes that control the means of production. The tradition to which Pistor’s work belongs is that of Karl Polanyi and, as she acknowledges, the early institutionalist schools of Thorstein Veblen and John Commons (I would add a Columbia Law School predecessor of hers, the lawyer-economist Robert L. Hale). The social divide is not between capital and labor, but between the holders of privileged assets protected by the code, and everyone else. And the centrally important players in the system are lawyers – specifically the partners of the largest law firms, most of them in the U.S. and England. These modestly pretend to the be valets of their corporate clients, but are actually the “masters of the code,” because they are or have been its architects, its curators, its innovators who ceaselessly extend its modules to create novel forms of capital

This book is a powerful – and brilliantly illuminating – study of the social effects of corporate lawyering. In a couple of respects it could be improved. First, it has surprisingly little to say about the classic subject of Marxist analysis, the legal mechanisms that have been used to elevate the rights of capital over those of labor. Some of these are wonderful examples of adaptation-by-analogy of code modules, such as the way in which late nineteenth-century courts transformed management’s rights to future income streams from contractual relations with customers into property, protectible by injunctions enforced with criminal contempt sanctions against striking or picketing workers. The likely, if depressing, explanation for this omission is that labor has now been so cowed into submission (at least in the U.S., less so in Canada and Europe) by the weakening of labor law, the outsourcing of work to low-wage, low-labor-protected countries, and above all, by the evaporation of the credible threat to foment socialist revolution, that it simply no longer poses much of a challenge to the owners of capital. Second, the monograph doesn’t always distinguish between the inequality-producing effects of what have become the routine operations of the private law code of property-contract-trust-bankruptcy law, and the additional inequalities produced by aggressive rent-seeking. Lawyers and others press legislators and regulators to bestow ad hoc special privileges – in addition to the almost-invisible privileges conferred by ordinary private-law rules – on classes of capital assets and their holders.

Now, as Pistor repeatedly emphasizes, capital does not always win its legal battles. Sometimes countervailing interests actually secure a favorable judicial ruling or legislative victory. Workers may assert a property in their own reliance-based expectations to future income. Scientists may try to protect commons in discovery or resist attempts to patent genes. Indigenous peoples may claim traditional land rights against developers. Tax reformers may lobby for more progressive tax schedules. These are uphill battles, however, since capital holders can often work around democratic constraints by relocating to friendlier venues as well as by deploying lawyers to loophole regulations into nullities. Pistor runs rapidly through a list of possible directions for reform (see generally Ch. 9): limiting the legal choices available to capital, granting special protection to neglected assets and their holders, and refusing to grant special exemptions and preferences. She urges more skepticism about claims that special privileges, like drug patents, will benefit everyone. She proposes changes in the conflicts-of-laws rules to limit parties’ ability to choose governing law. She endorses limits on the use of arbitration in cases of major social concern, or between unequal parties. She proposes legal mechanisms, such as compensation schemes or class actions, to “give voice to those who have most to lose in a crisis.” (P. 227.) She proposes more cooperation between countries to rein in the excesses of regulatory and tax arbitrage.

And finally – and perhaps her most important challenge to law teachers – she teases with the possibility of building a new profession of corporate lawyers, rethinking the funding of legal education, and the economics of law practice, to reduce incentives for lawyer to be servants of the code. (Pp. 228-29.) This was the challenge taken up by many professionals during the last great movements for reform of the code of capital and the devising of new careers for reformers, the Progressive movements of the early 20th century culminating in the New Deal. This is the challenge that lawyers associated with the Law and Political Economy movement are beginning to theorize. What jobs, what institutional practice settings, what careers, could be devised to support this new profession? Those of us who study the profession and educate its future members need to take up this challenge as well.

Cite as: Robert Gordon, Masters of the Code, JOTWELL (September 28, 2020) (reviewing Katharina Pistor, The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality (2019)),

Reframing Rural Private Practice Work

Hannah Haksgaard, Rural Practice as Public Interest Work, 71 Maine L. Rev. 209 (2019).

The splendors of rural America outnumber the stalks of wheat that spill down the Great Plains, the time-worn, sleepy peaks of Appalachia, the saguaro cacti whose sunbaked resolve outlasts generations of western settlers. Indeed, approximately 97 percent of U.S. land is within rural counties, capturing wonders throughout this nation’s countryside. But while a large swatch of America preserves the pastoral, one aspect is noticeably absent from this bucolic ideal: lawyers.

In Rural Practice as Public Interest Work, Hannah Haksgaard first establishes that there is a profound lack of rural lawyers, especially when compared to the “glut of lawyers in urban areas.” (P. 213.) Such a dearth exacerbates rural residents’ inability to access justice and to satisfy crucial legal needs. Essentially, Haksgaard asserts, there is a need for every type of attorney in rural areas: prosecutors, public defenders, immigration attorneys, divorce lawyers, bankruptcy lawyers, trusts and estate lawyers, and many more.

In order to combat this shortage of attorneys, Haksgaard suggests we change our conception of public interest lawyering. In particular, Haksgaard challenges us to think about rural legal practice as a form of public interest service rather than mere private practice work because rural attorneys engage in “mixed practice” work, serving part-time as prosecutors or court-appointed defense counsel in addition to their roles in private practice. Haksgaard further posits that institutions should provide incentives to encourage recent law school graduates to move to and serve rural communities as public interest lawyers in this “mixed practice” capacity. In so doing, Haksgaard pushes against the assumption that private practice work is homogenous, especially when such work takes place in rural locales.

An ABA publication defines “public interest” as providing services for historically underrepresented persons in the legal system, which necessarily includes those living in remote areas who are oft-secluded from legal resources. Thus, Haksgaard makes a compelling and straightforward argument: rural private lawyers serve historically underrepresented persons and therefore should fall under the public interest attorney umbrella.

Being considered a public interest lawyer is not merely a symbolic moniker. It carries important implications, which directly affect eligibility for loan forgiveness programs. As it stands, the federal government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) does not allow any private practice attorneys to participate, regardless of geography. 1 Haksgaard posits three arguments for why excluding rural lawyers from PSLF is a mistake. First and most obviously, the PSLF exclusion disincentivizes lawyers from serving rural communities.

Second, and as mentioned above, many rural private practice attorneys engage in “mixed practice” by performing the same functions traditional public interest lawyers perform, including situations in which private practice attorneys take on a part-time basis criminal cases as either prosecutors or public defenders. To be sure, Haksgaard advocates for PLSF to cover all rural attorneys, regardless of whether they engage in this mixed practice work. Afterall, Haksgaard reasons, many of the folks rural lawyers serve are routinely considered disadvantaged and underprivileged.

Third, Haksgaard compellingly shows that the PSLF’s current loan forgiveness line-drawing doesn’t make sense, as rural private practice attorneys serve the same interests but often earn lower salaries than government or traditional public interest lawyers. Indeed, at least in some parts of the U.S., rural private practice attorneys earn approximately 45 percent of the national mean salary urban private practice attorneys earn, as reported by the National Association for Law Placement in 2018. Haksgaard makes a common-sense argument that the PSLF’s definition is currently under-inclusive and should be expanded to incorporate rural private practice into its definition of “public interest,” as it would incentivize the growth of rural lawyers, as well as justly compensate these lawyers for the public interest work they so often perform.

Haksgaard then moves into a less tangible implication for expanding our definition of “public interest.” She cites a 2018 survey conducted by the Association of American Law Schools, which reports that aspiring law students’ primary motivation for attending law school is a sense of service and desire to help others. (P. 223.) She uses several, self-branded “public interest” law schools such as the University of the District of Columbia to illustrate how institutions that characterize themselves as “public-interest focused” can attract individuals eager to serve underserved populations, and how this logic can easily extend to describe rural private practice. Thus, Haksgaard asserts, labeling rural private practice as a form of public interest work would better represent the nature of rural legal work and excite and draw more students to serve rural communities.

Further, in order to promote access to justice in rural communities, law schools can do more than expand access to the PSLF and help to recharacterize rural legal work as public interest work; they can facilitate programs that are designed to specifically support students interested in opening rural private practices. Constituting my favorite point, Haksgaard focuses on Drake Law School as an exciting example of such assistance, as it recently launched a Rural Access to Justice Initiative. This new initiative encourages and supports law students who wish to practice in rural Iowa by offering donated or discounted office space to set up a solo practice, alumni mentoring, assistance in obtaining initial clients and a start-up stipend in exchange for dedicated pro bono hours.

Finally, Haksgaard calls for Congress to subsidize rural attorneys. Specifically, Haksgaard advocates for governmental assistance through programs such as “judicare,” or through a system in which a court compensates lawyers who perform civil services traditionally reserved for legal aid attorneys in locales that do not have access to such services. After all, Haksgaard says, these attorneys often perform varied work in addition to their private practice work, sometimes the same kind of work government-funded legal aid lawyers perform. Relatedly, Haksgaard points out that attorneys do receive government compensation when they participate in certain types of cases, such as court-appointed criminal cases. However, the earnings from these types of cases are often so low that some attorneys end up losing money working on them and forgo participating in court appointments altogether. Thus, in places without nonprofits or legal aid offices, rural residents are hurt by a lack of lawyers able to assist them in seeking justice, an inability fostered by governmental neglect. To address these gaps, Haksgaard argues for increased governmental assistance, or at the very least, increased compensation that would better reflect the integral work that so many rural attorneys perform.

Haksgaard’s article is attractive for its relatively straightforward solutions to a persistent problem. By tweaking how we think about legal practice in rural America, we may be able to stimulate legal growth in underserved areas. Even if increased funding seems untenable, providing specialized information on how law students can operate successfully in rural locales and revising law school culture to be less stigmatizing and more inclusive of rural practice as public interest may be an important step in addressing the dearth of rural lawyers. Haksgaard’s points are appealingly common-sensical, bringing to light the fact that, instead of merely worrying about the rural, we could be doing so much more to support it.

  1. 34 C.F.R. §685.219(b) (2014) (defining public interest).
Cite as: Aiden Park, Reframing Rural Private Practice Work, JOTWELL (August 7, 2020) (reviewing Hannah Haksgaard, Rural Practice as Public Interest Work, 71 Maine L. Rev. 209 (2019)),

Understanding Lawyer Regulation Initiatives: Is there a Sweet Spot for Achieving Client-Focused Lawyer Regulation?

Leslie C. Levin, The Politics of Lawyer Regulation: The Malpractice Insurance Example, 33 Geo. J. Legal Ethics __  (forthcoming, 2020), available at SSRN.

If you ask most individuals why lawyers have a monopoly on the provision of legal services and why lawyer regulation exists, I suspect they would answer that lawyer regulation is necessary for “client protection.” Assuming this is correct, it is ironic that most U.S. jurisdictions do not require one of the most basic kinds of protection. Unlike lawyers in many other countries,1 most U.S. lawyers do not have to carry malpractice insurance, which could protect clients in the event of lawyer error.

Although several U.S. states have recently examined the issue of whether malpractice insurance should be mandatory, only two U.S. jurisdictions currently require lawyers to carry professional liability insurance. Oregon has had this requirement since 1977, and Idaho has had this requirement since 2018.  Professor Leslie Levin’s article on The Politics of Lawyer Regulation: The Malpractice Insurance Example, which will be published soon in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, is a case study that examines and compares the mandatory malpractice insurance initiatives in these and other states. Her thorough and insightful article makes a compelling read, not only for those who are interested in the malpractice insurance issue, but also for those who are interested in other lawyer regulatory issues and wonder why some reforms succeed, whereas others fail.

Professor Levin’s article begins with an excellent roadmap. As it explains, the first part of her article describes the history of lawyer regulation in the United States and explains why lawyers continue to play such a significant role in their own regulation. The second part of her article examines the institutional actors involved in lawyer regulation, including the courts, the legislatures, and bar organizations. This section discusses the reasons “why courts often regulate in ways that favor the legal profession’s preferences and why legislatures are (somewhat) less likely to favor lawyers.” This section also highlights differences between mandatory and voluntary state bar organizations as well as factors that influence their decisionmaking. The third part of her article recounts the history of the debate over malpractice insurance requirements and some of the arguments against  it. This section includes a discussion of the ABA’s Model Court Rule on Insurance Disclosure and the limitations of disclosure. The “roadmap” describes the remainder of the article as follows:

Part IV of the article looks closely at how Oregon (forty years ago), and six other states (California, Idaho, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas, and Washington), have handled the regulation of uninsured lawyers relatively recently. The article discusses the political culture of the states, the historical context in which the insurance issue arose, and the role played by the state courts, the legislature, and the bar. Drawing on the case studies, Part V then identifies some factors that seemingly affect whether states will adopt public-regarding laws concerning LPL insurance. These factors include whether the organized bar supports it, the applicable lawmaking or rulemaking process, the mandatory or voluntary nature of the state bar, the views of the leadership, and the opportunities for lawyers opposed to the measures to directly lobby against the law. In the Conclusion, the article briefly considers when states are likely to adopt public-regarding laws governing lawyers. Itsuggests some areas for further research and some possible ways to ensure that the public interest receives appropriate consideration in debates over lawyer regulation.

There are several reasons why I like Professor Levin’s article. There were many places where her article provided information that may not be widely known within the field. For example, many readers, including myself, may not know the history of voluntary and mandatory state bar associations, including the early leadership role of the Chicago Bar Association.2 Professor Levin’s article also provides a useful primer on public choice theory, interest group theory, and regulatory capture for those who don’t know as much about these theories as they would like. Although many professional responsibility experts will be familiar with the points in the third section of the Article, which summarizes the ABA’s actions and regulatory debates, it is helpful to have this material collected together in one spot.

The fourth section was one of my favorite parts of this Article because of the manner in which Professor Levin combined her extensive research about Oregon and the six states that have recently considered the issue of mandatory malpractice insurance (i.e., Idaho, California, Washington, Nevada, New Jersey, and Texas) with political science research and classifications. One result is a “State Comparisons” chart that includes information about the active lawyer population in each state, whether the state bar is mandatory or voluntary, the state’s current approach to the malpractice insurance issue and the date of its most recent consideration of this issue, and whether the state has a political culture that is moralistic, individualistic, traditionalistic, or a combination of these categories.4 as well as other kinds of lawyer regulation reform initiatives.5 I hope it prompts jurisdictions to ask what procedures or tools6 they should use to help ensure that lawyer regulation is adopted for agreed-upon purposes, such as client protection, rather than lawyer protectionism.

  1. See, e.g., Council of Bars & Law Socys. of Europe, Responses to the CCBE Questionnaire on Professional Indemnity Insurance Comparative Table (OCTOBER 2014), (contains EU Member States requirements); Jennifer Ip & Nora Rock, Mandatory Professional Indemnity Insurance and a Mandatory Insurer: A Global Perspective, 10 LAWPRO MAG. 2 (2011),  (citing Table 1, infra, and referring to mandatory legal malpractice insurance requirements in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and the UK); LawPro, Table 1: Professional Indemnity Insurance Requirements Around The World, 9(4) LAW PRO MAG. 8 and web supplement (Dec. 2010), and (listing Asian, Australian, Canadian, EU, and UK jurisdictions that require malpractice insurance; LAWPRO, which published this Table, is the mandatory insurer for lawyers in Ontario, Canada).
  2. The Chicago Bar Association, along with the ABA and the City Bar of New York, was established during the 1870s “in part to raise the status and competence of lawyers.” The Chicago Bar Association continues to be interested in lawyer regulation issues and play a leading role. For example, in October 2019, the Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Bar Foundation launched their Task Force on the Sustainable Practice of Law & Innovation “to help shape a better future for our profession, the public, and the justice system.”
  3. Professor Levin’s article explains that political culture is distinct from political ideology, citing the politically diverse states of Utah and Minnesota, both of which have been characterized as “moralistic” states.  Her article offers the following explanation of these “political culture” terms:

    In the moralistic political culture, which is found in Oregon and some other Western states, politics is viewed as a positive activity in which citizens have an obligation to participate, and “[g]ood government is measured by the degree to which it promotes the public good.”  Moralistic states have higher levels of political participation and are more likely to adopt political reforms and innovations.  Individualistic political culture, which is associated with some of the Rocky Mountain, Midwest, and mid-Atlantic states, is based on a more utilitarian view that politics should work like a marketplace and places a premium on limiting government intervention into private activities. “Traditionalistic” political culture, found mostly in the South, accepts the inevitability of a hierarchical society and tries to limit the role of government to maintaining the existing social order.  While the political cultures are changing in some regions, they have proved to be a good predictor of public policy variations among the states. (Footnotes omitted).

  4. Although Georgia is not included in Professor Levin’s case study, the State Bar of Georgia’s Professional Liability Insurance Committee examined whether Georgia should require mandatory malpractice coverage or disclosure. This Committee developed four options for consideration by the Board of Governors. Because of the COVID-19 virus, however, this State Bar of Georgia committee postponed its planned March 2020 vote on these proposals.
  5. The IAALS [Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System] Unlocking Legal Regulation Knowledge Center webpage includes links to a number of lawyer regulation reform initiatives in the United States and elsewhere. Although many of these initiatives may be familiar to readers, such as the initiatives in Arizona, California, and Utah, the IAALS Knowledge Center webpage includes links to less well-known initiatives such as those in Connecticut and New Mexico. The IAALS webpage is a useful source for up-to-date information about these initiatives, such as the March 2020 California Task Force Final Report and Recommendations; in May 2020, the State Bar trustees voted to create a working group to consider the development of a regulatory sandbox approach that would be analogous to that currently being implemented in Utah. (For more information about the California and Utah initiatives, see the IAALS Knowledge Center. I addressed these initiatives in a Nov. 2019 presentation: click for slides and materials.)
  6. Regulatory objectives and evidence-based lawyer regulation are tools that jurisdictions could consider, short of removing lawyers from the lawyer regulation process.
Cite as: Laurel Terry, Understanding Lawyer Regulation Initiatives: Is there a Sweet Spot for Achieving Client-Focused Lawyer Regulation?, JOTWELL (July 9, 2020) (reviewing Leslie C. Levin, The Politics of Lawyer Regulation: The Malpractice Insurance Example, 33 Geo. J. Legal Ethics __  (forthcoming, 2020), available at SSRN),

Who Feels Entitled to Assert Legal Rights?

Kathryne M. Young & Katie Billings, Legal Consciousness and Cultural Capital, 54 Law & Soc'y Rev. 33 (2020).

Consider the following hypothetical:

One day before you leave for work, an officer knocks on your door and says that there have been drug sales reported on your block. He says you don’t have to let him in, but that he’s checking the homes in the suspected area, and that it will only take 20 minutes. You are already late for an important meeting. You have nothing illegal in your house. Do you let the officer search? (P. 41.)

Chances are, if you are reading this, you would say no, or ask the officer to come back at a more convenient time. In Kathryne M. Young and Katie Billings’ study of people’s responses to five rights assertion vignettes, only 26.7% of respondents with high cultural capital said that they would comply with police requests, compared to 55.1% of respondents with limited cultural capital. (P. 45.) People with high cultural capital also were more likely to explain their responses in terms of “entitlement,” by expressing “the primacy of their own needs, rights, or desires in relation to the objective of law enforcement or the legal system.” (P. 45.) People with limited cultural capital were more likely to express “futility,” suggesting that “asserting a right would be useless.” (P. 49.) These findings have important implications for policing and criminal procedure, as well as for the role of lawyers in civil access to justice.

The study is based on a sample of students from two academic institutions in 2008: undergraduates from a high-status, private university (n=108) and students at a community college ranked in the bottom quartile of the state’s community colleges (n=247) (P. 42.) Within each group, respondents were sorted by their parents’ educational attainment to enable comparison of two extremes: those with the highest amount of cultural capital (elite university students with two parents or guardians holding college degrees) (n=76) and those with the lowest amount of cultural capital (community college students without a parent or guardian who had attended college) (n=154). (PP. 43-44.) Respondents completed a survey presenting five vignettes in which “respondents were being investigated by police, were innocent of wrongdoing, and knew they possessed a particular right.” (P. 41.) After each vignette, respondents were asked whether they would comply and to explain why or why not. (P. 42.) Respondents’ explanations were coded for various expressions of entitlement, trust and distrust of the criminal justice system, and futility.

Respondents with high cultural capital were more likely to draw on a sense of entitlement in thinking about how to respond to the police, invoking ideas about “personal dignity, the value of their time, the urgency of competing obligations, and their mere possession of a right.” (P. 50.) Overall, they expressed “a greater sense of self-efficacy in their interactions with the law.” (P. 51.) People with less cultural capital expressed more hesitation about asserting their rights, for instance suggesting “if you say no then you’re suspicious” or “he is going to search … one way or the other” (P. 49) and emphasizing “their lack of agency relative to police.” (P. 52.) These findings are consistent with research on cultural capital in other contexts, such as education and health care, that finds the people from more privileged backgrounds are socialized to be more proactive and perceive more control in their interactions with authority.

Young and Billings’ vignette study has important implications for policing and criminal procedure. First, it suggests that people with limited cultural capital are more vulnerable to investigative authority, even in the absence of disparities in rights knowledge, police behavior, or criminal culpability. As a result, differences in cultural capital may work to accentuate other sources of disparate outcomes in police-citizen interactions, such as racial discrimination and implicit bias. (P. 52.) Although the authors touch upon race in their analysis and both respondent pools were racially diverse, the sample size did not allow for a systematic analysis of the relationship between race and rights assertion or the interactive effects of race and cultural capital (which the authors lament as the “Achilles’ heel of our cultural capital typology”). (P. 44.) Some prior research, however, suggests that cultural capital operates in people’s lives similarly across race. (P. 44.)

Young and Billings’ study also challenges a foundational doctrinal assumption in criminal procedure: that people are equally likely to assert constitutional rights, for instance in the context of a “consent” search, or the application of the “free to leave” doctrine. (P. 59.) Instead, the vignette design suggests that “even when knowledge of a right and the opportunity to assert that right are equally distributed, meaningful constitutional access to that right remains woefully inequitable.” (P. 58.) Given such inequity, “[r]equiring a citizen to assert a right instead of making that right self-executing results in the reproduction of social inequality.” (P. 59.) In a separate paper, Young and Christin L. Munsch analyze the implications of the research for the literature on constitutional criminal procedure and suggest ways to promote rights assertion, such as taping all police-citizen encounters, as well as strategies for decreasing the importance of rights assertion in police investigations.1

Finally, the study has important implications for the role of lawyers and legal consciousness in civil access to justice. Recent research on access to justice has emphasized ordinary people’s lack of rights knowledge and widespread disinclination to “go to law” with actionable civil legal problems2, such as wrongful eviction, denial of benefits, workplace discrimination, and the like. This research suggests that simply increasing the availability of lawyers is unlikely to be the most effective solution for increasing the lawful resolution of such problems. Instead, increasing civil access to justice will require a better understanding of everyday legal consciousness and “social variation in the way people understand and navigate their legal problems.” (P. 58.) Young and Billings’ rigorous, qualitative analysis of cultural capital and legal entitlement is a rich and timely contribution to legal consciousness research.

  1. Kathryne M. Young & Christin L. Munsch, Fact and Fiction in Constitutional Civil Procedure, 66 S.C. L. Rev. 445 (2014).
  2. Rebecca L. Sandefur, What We Know and Need to Know About the Legal Needs of the Public, 67 S.C. L. Rev. 443, 448 (2016).
Cite as: Elizabeth Chambliss, Who Feels Entitled to Assert Legal Rights?, JOTWELL (June 22, 2020) (reviewing Kathryne M. Young & Katie Billings, Legal Consciousness and Cultural Capital, 54 Law & Soc'y Rev. 33 (2020)),

Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession: The Significance of Giving Voice and Listening to Persons Who Experience Discrimination, Bias, and Harassment

Veronica Root Martinez, Combating Silence in the Profession, 105 Va. L. Rev. 805 (2019).

Let’s admit it, harassment and bullying are endemic in the practice of law. Horacio Benardes Neto, the President of the International Bar Association (IBA), made this observation in introducing an IBA report, called Us Too: Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession. Published last year, the report was based on findings from the largest-ever global survey of nearly 7,000 legal professionals in 135 countries. The survey revealed that one in three female respondents and one in fourteen male respondents had been sexually harassed at work. Additionally, one in two female respondents and one in three male respondents reported being bullied at work.

To help the legal professions address the serious problems of sexual harassment and bullying, the IBA report proposes ten recommendations. Recommendation One urges interested parties to “Raise Awareness,” while Recommendation Three calls on the legal profession to “Take Ownership” of the problem. These recommendations are one of the reasons that I commend Professor Veronica Root Martinez’s article, Combating Silence in the Profession. In her article, Professor Root Martinez both examines discrimination and exclusion in the legal profession and proposes practical steps for tackling the challenges of discrimination, exclusion, underrepresentation, and bias.

To provide context, the article presents a historical perspective on discrimination and exclusion among lawyers. While we might want to believe that discrimination and exclusion are no longer concerns in lawyers’ workplaces, Professor Root Martinez helps the reader understand how discrimination and exclusion continue today. She notes that the disparities start in law school and persist in various workplaces, including large law firms. In addition to examining explicit discrimination, the article discusses implicit discrimination and bias.

This discussion segues into her analysis of how states and the American Bar Association (ABA) have adopted a new rule related to discriminatory conduct by lawyers. This section reviews the genesis of Model Rule 8.4(g), the ABA’s formal anti-discrimination provision. The overview covers positions taken both by the rule’s proponents and critics. Critics included those who questioned the need for an anti-discrimination rule and those who challenged the rule’s constitutionality.

Professor Root Martinez’s analysis of Model Rule 8.4(g) is particularly interesting because it reveals why a proponent of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession might question the rule’s content, effects, and impact. To judge the effectiveness of the rule, Professor Root Martinez evaluates whether the rule effectuates the ABA’s stated goals and objectives—to promote full and equal participation by all persons and to eliminate bias in the legal system and justice system. Using that measuring stick, she explains how the rule lacks the substance and depth necessary to prompt concrete change within and throughout the profession. To reach this conclusion, she first examines the impact of state analogs of Model Rule 8.4(g), that  have been in effect for many years. As she suggests, is it troubling that there is little evidence suggesting that these state rules have had much practical impact when it comes to eliminating discrimination or enhancing diversity.

Professor Root Martinez also notes that most reported disciplinary actions involving state analogs of Rule 8.4(g) involve some additional element of misconduct, beyond discriminatory behavior. This leads Professor Root Martinez to suggest that enforcement actions should not be limited to prosecutions that involve discriminatory conduct, along with some other type of professional misconduct. Rather, prosecutors should pursue actions when the only misconduct involved is discriminatory behavior.

Drawing on employment and labor law scholarship, Professor Root Martinez points to another inadequacy in Model Rule 8.4(g): the absence of anti-retaliation provisions to protect complainants. Although she recognizes that anti-discrimination provisions would not be a definitive solution to Rule 8.4(g)’s limitations, she suggests that such provisions would be a “modest addition to the ABA effort” and make it more likely for employees to complain. (P. 833.) Creating this protection is very important because evidence suggests that the vast majority of persons in the legal profession do not report discriminatory or harassing conduct.

Recognizing the importance of empowering and supporting victims of discrimination, Professor Root Martinez proposes that the legal profession adopt strategies that: (i) address covert discrimination through the profession, and (ii) encourage individual attorneys to stop remaining silent and instead give voice to their experiences of discrimination, harassment, and bias.

First, she suggests that the organized bar’s efforts not be limited to targeting overt discrimination; rather, more should be done to address covert discrimination—the most common type of discriminatory behavior in the legal profession. This covert discrimination takes the form of structural barriers and implicit biases that adversely impact certain demographics.

Second, Professor Root Martinez examines the quandary and difficulties faced by persons on the receiving end of discriminatory conduct. To address the deleterious effects of remaining silent, she generally urges the legal profession to take steps to give voice to its members who have faced harassment, discrimination, and bias. In addition to this general call for action, Professor Root Martinez proposes an online survey as a concrete step that the organized bar can take to give voice to persons who encounter discriminatory conduct. She suggests that such an online survey would be a low-cost tool to encourage lawyers to share their experiences. As described, the survey could gather the information about “attorneys’ experiences with or observations of (i) overt discrimination, (ii) overt harassment, (iii) covert discrimination, (iv) policies resulting in structural discrimination, or (v) action or inaction impacted by implicit bias within the practice of law.” (P. 846.) Resulting data could then be aggregated, published, and studied by researchers, policymakers, and members of the profession to determine whether there are trends regarding incidents of discrimination, harassment, and bias.

Professor Root Martinez identifies a number of benefits associated with an online survey and other strategies that give lawyers opportunities to share their experiences related to bias, discrimination, and harassment. To evaluate whether such benefits have been realized, decisionmakers may consider the experience in other countries where regulators have taken steps to deal with such conduct, including harassment. For example, in the Australian state of Victoria, sexual harassment by barristers can be addressed through a formal complaint process (seeking an investigation and response) or a confidential report. The confidential reporting process protects the identity of persons who communicate occurrences of sexual harassment experienced or witnessed, while providing them with outlets to express themselves. It also provides data that can be used to better inform the training and awareness needs and initiatives of the bar.

Similarly, a program operated by the Discrimination and Harassment Counsel (DHC) in the Canadian province of Ontario accepts reports from persons who may wish to anonymously share their experiences and obtain guidance. Once a report is made, the DHC can provide a range of confidential services to individuals. In addition, the DHC’s biannual reports includes anonymized data to enable the Law Society of Ontario to “better address systemic issues of discrimination and harassment in the legal professions.” The DHC program in Ontario and the confidential reporting scheme in Victoria point to the value of the organized bar providing confidential channels for persons to share their experiences.

To address the serious problems of discrimination, bias, and harassment in lawyer workplaces, regulators and the organized bar should take steps to address covert, as well as overt discrimination. A first step is for the organized bar to pursue strategies, such as the online survey that Professor Root Martinez proposes. Such a survey will help us better understand the nature and extent of the problem, while providing a channel for aggrieved persons who otherwise might suffer in silence. By proactively pursuing initiatives to give lawyers a voice, bar leaders and regulators demonstrate they are serious about their pronounced commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion.

Cite as: Susan Fortney, Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession: The Significance of Giving Voice and Listening to Persons Who Experience Discrimination, Bias, and Harassment, JOTWELL (May 20, 2020) (reviewing Veronica Root Martinez, Combating Silence in the Profession, 105 Va. L. Rev. 805 (2019)),

Happiness in NewLaw—Assessing the Lifestyle Claims of Alternative Legal Practices in Australia

Margaret Thornton,Towards the Uberisation of Legal Practice, 1 Law, Technology and Humans 46 (2019).

Margaret Thornton’s work has had a defining role in the landscape of socio-legal scholarship in Australia and across the common law world for the last generation. She has long critiqued the neo-liberal turn of our major institutions (especially in the academy and legal profession) with an emphasis on profit maximisation. She coined the term “Benchmark Male” to capture a prevailing notion of an “ideal worker” with supposed attributes often unattainable for women and others struggling under the yoke of gendered roles and assumptions. In The Flexible Cyborg in 2016, Thornton described the results of her qualitative empirical work, which found that technology enabled “temporal flexibility dovetailed with the feminisation of labour in the late twentieth century” resulting in women lawyers simply doing more (full time work and domestic duty). Thus, she has long documented how an economy enabled by the uptake of technology has “colonised new sites” including the personal sphere. Her latest contribution, Towards the Uberisation of Legal Practice, is also concerned with working patterns and gendered effects but provides a more upbeat reflection on an aspect of modern legal practice driven (to an extent) by a desire for “being happy.”

Thornton bases her discussion on a relatively small, empirical project comprising of 38 interviews with Australian and English lawyers within “NewLaw” firms. However, the interviews were in-depth discussions, which ultimately generated rich insights concerning lawyer experience and opinion. By focusing on the process as well as the outcome of disruption of traditional legal career patterns and expectations, her project zeroed in on the following questions:

Why lawyers had left traditional practice, established a new firm or had chosen to become independent contractors, and what working flexibly mean for them, how comfortable they were with the technology and what measures were being undertaken to prevent work from encroaching on their private life. (P. 48.)

Thornton describes a NewLaw firm as a “blended or hybrid model” still run by lawyers (usually as a fully incorporated legal practice available under Australian legislation) but with “varying degrees of centralised support” and control, and intensive use of IT specialists and legaltech. It could be a boutique firm with a handful of lawyers specialising in a new market or a hub for a large cohort of lawyers on contract. In both cases, the organisations seem to comprise of refugee senior practitioners from medium to large law firms. What is universal in approach is the sloughing off of a static physical presence—expensive offices are gone as both a cost saving method and a signal of a deliberate break with the past. Also gone is the hierarchical nature of traditional firms, that has long been implicated in a range of intractable barriers for women and persons of color in attainting seniority. Several interviewees described changing terminology—from “partner” to “practice leader”—to signal a shift in lock-step careers and autonomy levels.

NewLaw is a different species to the myriad solo practitioner providing traditional services to one-off individual clients, even with legaltech enhancements. It may emerge as a true competitor to medium and large law firms for clients and staff, as it is largely focused on corporate clients offering legal advising, tech solutions, and legal personnel on secondment. Secondments may have been a large law firm practice for some time, but there are now deliberate business models responding to this demand. Thornton concludes that this “point[s] to the remarkable agility of NewLaw in responding to perceived gaps in the market.” (P. 51.) Nevertheless, she concedes that, at this stage, it is a small sub-strand unlikely to replace an increasingly profitable BigLaw sector that has better capacity to provide training and a full suite of services.

Thornton’s study also documents several organisations with an access to justice orientation that rely on technological educational resources and low-cost online services. Innovative, technology-enabled approaches to intractable access to justice problems have been a particular focus for many scholars such as Deborah Rhode. Thornton’s discussion points to these models as part of a NewLaw ethos of rejecting neo-liberal ideology, but her discussion relates mostly to the less studied corporate NewLaw firm and its “disruptive innovation” in this legal services market. She explains this process by quoting her interview subjects who provide examples of Clayton Christensen’s theory of an existing market that has inherent limitations making it vulnerable to change-makers. For instance, the partners of NewLaw firms cite familiar characterisations of law firms with “dysfunctional” time billing practices and pyramidal structures based on hyper-competition and a lack of transparency. The response is to “transcend narrow issues of legal regulation and creatively address contemporary problems” through new organisational arrangements and working styles. It is apparent that these lawyers are aware of innovation theory echoing Richard Susskind’s deconstructive terms for future legal workers—describing “solutionists” focused on “faster, better, cheaper.” (P. 49.)

A key contribution of Thornton’s article is its examination of an emerging transformation of conceptions of lawyering and an evolution in the provision of legal services. The stated virtues of NewLaw are independence, autonomy, flexibility, and choice. These are cited as advantages unavailable in BigLaw. In the U.S., Joan Williams has reported on the stigma attached to legal workers who attempt to avail themselves of flexible employment policies. Williams, with Platt and Lee, however, tell a happier story: that new legal organisational structures have provided true access to flexible work with supportive cultural environments. Thornton’s investigation of the mushrooming of NewLaw as a lifestyle choice for weary corporate lawyers in Australia makes similar findings.

That said, Thornton is cautious about this self-confessed new way, pointing to significant issues facing a contractor model where there is a greater risk of isolation and economic exploitation. She also concedes that, to the extent this sub-industry becomes identified as a feminised enclave, it may suffer the usual “invidiousness associated” with that characterization, including lower rates of pay and status (and there is already some evidence of this). We are yet to track whether there is the same structural exploitation of female labour, and vulnerability of workers with caring responsibilities, as has been observed in BigLaw. Nevertheless, it appears that, in this new approach, women are not the traditional “fringe-dwellers” Thornton has long observed in law.

Thornton’s greatest caution relates to junior lawyers. NewLaw engages with and addresses challenges experienced by senior lawyers, and it generally provides a model premised on senior lawyers’ ability to attract clients and work independently. There is scant space for junior lawyers to acquire skills and contacts needed in a contract- or specialist-based model. For those seeking to bypass BigLaw, participating in this gig economy too early presents all of the dangers represented by the ride-sharing company (Uber) that her title references. Thus, she warns that NewLaw does nothing to alleviate the “growing precariat” of junior lawyers.

Thornton’s article reports the stories of converts to NewLaw. As such, it is a partial perspective on this growing trend. However, as Thornton and her participants emphasise, it is a movement committed to leaving behind undesirable aspects of the legal workforce (presentism, discriminatory nepotistic or homosocial behaviours, hyper-competition, and exploitation of the client in some cases). For some lawyers at least, this provides a prospect of a happier life in law. Thornton observes more broadly that where the new models prove economically sustainable, they may in the future “change irrevocably the nature of legal professionalism.” (P. 60.) Since the publication of her article in November 2019, there has been a drastic acceleration of reliance on virtual working environments as a result of a global pandemic (Covid-19). The article’s predictions for a transformed profession seem to have been brought forward. And yet, as Thornton’s article recognizes, we need to be attuned to its uneven and potentially unequal impacts upon lawyers and law practices.

Cite as: Francesca Bartlett, Happiness in NewLaw—Assessing the Lifestyle Claims of Alternative Legal Practices in Australia, JOTWELL (May 5, 2020) (reviewing Margaret Thornton,Towards the Uberisation of Legal Practice, 1 Law, Technology and Humans 46 (2019)),

Fight the Power

Ramsey Clark is a bit of a mystery. As Attorney General, Clark fought diligently for civil rights. He began his career as an insider who was independent and critical but seemed to respect the institutions in which he worked. The son of Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark, he made enemies when he served in the Johnson administration, but he was hardly radical. When he left government work, however, his practice took an unusual turn for a lawyer of his stature and pedigree. Like the famous leaker of the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, Clark went from consummate insider to unyielding government critic. He went on to represent infamous clients like Saddam Hussein, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and President of Syria Bashar Al-Assad. He also defended two former Nazis in deportation proceedings and stood by Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a Hutu clergyman accused of luring Tutsis to their slaughter during the Rwandan genocide. Conducting these representations with skill, Clark often seemed fond of his clients, kind and even admiring at times. All the while, he relentlessly criticized the United States for its cruelty and hypocrisy.

In this biography of Clark, author Lonnie T. Brown, skillfully leads us through his subject’s life and career, giving us clues as to why Clark turned into such an unyielding critic of his country. Clark was involved in so many major events in American history that the book offers a unique perspective on the last sixty years. But Defending the Public’s Enemy is more than just a retelling of famous events in our past. Ramsey Clark’s unflinching independence offers insight into the role of the Attorney General, a particularly timely topic. His later career as a defense attorney and activist—representing some of the most notorious individuals—sheds new light on age-old discussions of how lawyers, especially the elite of the profession, should choose their clients, and how they can justify defending villains. Finally and most importantly, Clark’s transformation, his personal story, told directly to the author, is a story of the American Left. It helps us understand the political landscape in a way that most political and cultural histories cannot.

Clark worked in the Department of Justice (DOJ) during the Kennedy administration, and when President Lyndon Johnson replaced Attorney General Bobby Kennedy with Nicholas Katzenbach, Clark was chosen as Deputy Attorney General. He spent his early career in the DOJ working to protect civil rights. He traveled throughout the South to enforce the desegregation mandate of Brown v. Board of Education.

In the early 1960s, as the Freedom Riders rode buses through the South to protest segregation and African-American activist, James Meredith, sought admission to the University of Mississippi, Clark became more actively involved in the administration’s response to the civil rights movement and its backlash. Horrified by the violence these peaceful demands met, Clark drafted a memorandum to Robert Kennedy urging legislation, an early inspiration for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1965, he coordinated the U.S. Army troops and the Alabama National Guard to protect marchers in Selma, Alabama, and he responded to the riots in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, by studying and drafting a report on the causes of racial unrest.

Once elevated to Attorney General in 1967, Clark devoted much of his time to shaping the Johnson administration’s response to the civil rights and the anti-war movements. Inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., Clark considered himself a pacifist. He privately opposed the war and clashed with F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover, who sought to use the power of the DOJ to undermine King and other civil rights and anti-war leaders.

As the struggle for civil rights grew more violent, Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown vied for control. Clark continued to support government institutions and advocate for a lawful response to injustice. Yet his personal involvement, working with local civil rights leaders and law enforcement authorities in the aftermath of the race riots of the late 1960s, gave him a complex understanding of the racial dynamics in the U.S. He sympathized with activists like Carmichael and Brown who, frustrated with the slow pace of change, demanded a more immediate solution than King’s peaceful protests could achieve.

At the same time, however, he believed in the rule of law and in government institutions, leading to willing (if not enthusiastic) enforcement of the Selective Service Act that authorized the draft. Despite pressure from members of the Johnson administration, however, Clark refused to seek an indictment against black activist Stokely Carmichael for his vocal anti-war stance. Instead, he prosecuted a group of wealthy, white protestors who came to be known as the Boston Five. Clark justified his decision for pursuing the Boston Five rather than Carmichael, by appealing to traditional rule of law values like the relative strength of the cases, though as Brown explains, Carmichael was probably guiltier than Spock and his cohort. Perhaps, as the author speculates, Clark refused to prosecute Carmichael because he empathized with the message that Black Americans should not have to fight a war for a country that denied them equal rights.

Clark’s independence was admirable. He refused to let political pressure influence his decisions in individual cases. However, as Brown explains, his repeated rejection of the administration’s policy goals bordered on arrogance. As a result of his intransigence, Clark was excluded from meetings of the National Security Council and increasingly seen as a hostile outsider rather than a trusted member of the cabinet.

Clark’s clash with the other members of the Johnson administration demonstrates the importance of an independent Attorney General. Defensive about his role in the war and angry about perceived ingratitude for his efforts on behalf of the black community, Johnson had a political vendetta and was not in a good position to determine whom should be prosecuted. But at the same time, Clark serves as a reminder of the dangers of law enforcement unmoored from democratically elected officials. This need for balance between independence in individual prosecutions and a responsiveness to administration policy can help inform us now, as we seek to understand the proper relationship between the Attorney General and the President.

When Clark left government, he took his opposition to the war to a new front, defending anti-war activists. Skeptical of government representations about the scope of the war, he also traveled to North Vietnam with a group investigating the accuracy of reports on the nature of U.S. aggression. After the war, Clark’s controversial list of clients grew. He represented one of the inmates in the infamous Attica prison uprising, as well as radical civil-rights figure Ruchell Magee. But he drew the most criticism for his representation of Nazi war criminals, Karl Linnas and Jack Reimer, as well as his long-time relationship with the PLO and Saddam Hussein.

How, Brown asks, could a man dedicated to peace and equality take on such violent and bigoted clients? Every accused man deserves a defense, the old line goes, but perhaps not all deserve a lawyer as skillful as Ramsey Clark. And in any event, they certainly do not deserve Clark’s affection. Brown considers a few theories. Was Clark an anti-Semite? Brown engages the possibility but ultimately dismisses it. Did Clark grow angry and distrustful of the government because he witnessed America lie to the public during the Vietnam War and use unlawful tactics in its fight against civil rights activists? That is certainly true, but it does not explain why he represented the PLO or the Hutu reverend. Nor would it account for his seeming affection for some of history’s worst villains. Instead, Brown suggests that Clark was disillusioned with the U.S. government, in part, because it  tends to dehumanize its enemy, which in turn legitimates cruel and even unlawful actions and policies. Clark, in reaction and defiance, learned to find the humanity in his clients, even in those who had committed grave wrongs. The purpose of his controversial representations then became finding humanity in even the worst criminals.

In addition to an insight into Clark’s motivations, this analysis serves as an interesting contribution to an old, legal ethics debate, most famously expressed in an exchange between Monroe Freedman and Michael Tigar about whether a lawyer, especially one with elite status, has an obligation to offer a public justification for representing an unpopular client. If one accepts Freedman’s view that lawyers do have this duty, Clark’s example offers one such possible justification. As Abbe Smith has written, “defense lawyers try to find the humanity in the people they represent no matter what they have done.” They are drawn to the outsider. As Clark himself explained, “By instinct, I am a maverick. I rather like the outside way. It’s more fun.” (P. 31.)  Finding the humanity in a client, as Clark’s story shows, is not just a personal choice but a political conviction based on his assessment of how government power corrupts.

But as Brown notes, resisting dehumanization and finding the humanity in the evilest enemies of the state blinded Clark “to other possible alternative realities and made him do to his nation what he contends his nation does to others. He has demonized America, or at least the American government.” (P. 199.) I would go even further to argue that Clark, in his later life, seems to distrust all power. Israel may be the home of people targeted by the greatest genocide in world history, but it is rich and powerful now, so Clark chose to serve the Palestinians because they are not. The Hutus grotesquely abused their power in Rwanda; however, by the time Clark represented Ntakirutimana, the Tutsis had taken control, so Clark was representing a member of the disfavored group. It seems that his proximity to American leaders taught him that power and ambition corrupt, necessitating that he stand with the least powerful to combat that inevitable degradation.

The question this book poses, and Brown’s thoughtful if tentative answer, do more than contribute a new voice to a discussion in professional ethics. They also suggest a possible insight into the development of the American Left. Why, some wonder, does the Left seem to hate America? Why do progressives equate all of the country with its worst historical institutions, such as slavery and Jim Crow? While many dismiss these critics as modern-day McCarthyites, and insist that the Left is patriotically holding America to its highest promise, there is at least some truth to the fact that the Left focuses on the country’s wrongs. The same critics ask, why do those on the Left seem to favor every marginalized group over those with power regardless of their relative merit? Again, the question may unfairly characterize the Left. But to the extent there is truth in the query, the answer may lie in part in Clark’s story. Disaffected with the government and horrified by what happens to those in power, the Left chooses to stand by individuals and groups who have none.

Cite as: Rebecca Roiphe, Fight the Power, JOTWELL (April 21, 2020) (reviewing Lonnie T. Brown, Jr., Defending the Public’s Enemy: The Life and Legacy of Ramsey Clark (2019)),