Monday, March 30, 2009

Case of the Week 3/30/09

The bar examiners may be concerned by an applicant's troubled personal relationships.

Domestic relationships are a frequent pattern. In one case, when a law school applicant filed his application in 1979, he included a list of 21 criminal and disciplinary actions taken against him between 1958 and 1976, including a guilty plea to an assault and battery arising out of a domestic dispute, which he later mischaracterized on his bar application as a technical and minor assault. Years later, the student’s application to take the Iowa bar examination was denied. The court held, “we must recognize the seriousness of his long history of law violations and felony convictions, his assault and battery of [the victim,] and his failure to testify truthfully before this court…This testimony displays a callous and indifferent attitude toward an explosive personal confrontation.” In re Patterson, 439 N.W. 2d 165 (Iowa, 1989).

Firm Mentoring--Not All Mentoring Created Equal?

Lawyers' life coach and work-life balance guru Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D. has written an interesting new article in which she suggests that not all programs -- formal or informal -- are created equal when it comes to mentoring of young associates.

In particular, Ostrow suggests that young women attorneys benefit most when they find a seasoned male attorney to mentor them and "sponsor" their rise up the ranks.

In her article, "What Determines Women's Advancement to Equity Partnership" in the Beyond the Billable Hour Newsletter, Ostrow writes:

"[Th]e most crucial ingredient for career advancement - especially for
a woman or minority attorney - is having an advocate: someone with power who will
watch the young attorney's back and campaign for her behind the scene.

The mentee's career benefits when her mentor provides a junior attorney
access to his network, facilitates her participation in collaborative projects,
promotes her to others thereby augmenting her visibility and credibility, protects and champions her behind the scenes, provides challenging and highly noticeable work
assignments, brings her along on client meetings and ensures that she plays an active
role, and by association signals her legitimacy to decision-makers. A mentor like this functions as a sponsor. Unfortunately, in my experience, I've found few law firm
mentoring programs that focus on this critical role.

Yet having a sponsor makes all the difference in enabling women to advance
to full equity partnership. Among the first questions I ask all the women law firm
attorneys I coach is, "Do you have a sponsor?" If the answer is "no" then, assuming
her goal is to advance, this becomes a top agenda item. Establishing mentoring
relationships with high-level, powerful insiders is essential for women pursuing career advancement in the legal profession.

Studies of the relationship between mentoring and the career success of
women in professional service firms, and law firms in particular, suggest that a
senior male attorney is likely to most effectively fill this mentoring role. If
for no other reason than the fact that the overwhelming majority of law firm
partners and leaders are men, this is probably not very surprising.

However, the gendered culture of law firms also influences the differential effects of male vs. female mentors for the careers of women attorneys. Success in most firms requires the ability to thrive in a highly competitive, aggressive, individualistic, "heroic" culture. Attributes stereotypically associated with masculine behavior are viewed as indicators of potential and "fit." Decision-makers always have imperfect information about candidates for advancement. In the absence of sufficient, objective information to allow for a rational means of discriminating among aspiring attorneys, having a powerful male mentor signals to the predominantly male leadership that a woman lawyer possesses those sought-after competencies and qualities typically associated with her male peers. In other words, a male sponsor may help a woman overcome implicit bias based upon gender stereotypes."

What's your take on this article and your experience with mentoring? What facets of a mentoring program are most beneficial to women and minority associates? What should they look for in informal mentoring relationships?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Case(s) of the Week 3/16/09

Prior conduct may bar an applicant's admission to the bar, but the applicant can still offer evidence of rehabilitation to impress upon the bar examiners why he or she should be admitted.

For example, an applicant who was previously denied admission to the Nebraska bar -- due to a prior sexual assault conviction for alleged misconduct involving the applicant’s underage niece, an inappropriate letter to another juvenile, and two arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol -- was granted admission six years later. The court held that the applicant presented sufficient evidence of rehabilitation, including: medical documentation that he has resolved his previous conditions; service in Iraq and in his community; and a substantial number of letters of support from those who knew him. In re Hartmann 276 Neb 775 (2008)

By contrast, “making good” isn’t always sufficient evidence of rehabilitation in the eyes of the court. In one Massachusetts case, the court held, “A prior conviction is not an absolute bar to admission. We have stated that no offense is so grave as to preclude a showing of present moral fitness…The commission of a felony is, however, conclusive evidence of lack of good moral character at the time of the offense.” In re Prager, 422 Mass. 86 (1996). In that case, Prager was convicted of smuggling large quantities of marijuana and subsequently fled the country; he later returned and successfully complied with the terms of his probation. The court held, “seven years of a creditable work history, and compliance with the terms of a five-year probationary period, are insufficient to show good moral character when balanced against approximately sixteen years of marihuana use, international smuggling, and living as a fugitive.” Id., at 100.

Is Cheating Contagious?

Academic dishonesty in law school is no small matter.

As one author reports, "The concern and awareness about academic misconduct is not unwarranted. Integrity is a cornerstone of the legal profession and statistics concerning cheating are real. Surveys have shown that seventy percent of high school and college students admit to having engaged in some form of cheating, and that forty-five percent of law students admit to having cheated.” See Caroline P. Jacobson, Academic Misconduct and Bar Admissions: A Proposal for a Revised Standard, 20 Geo. J. Legal Ethics at 739 (2007).

But is cheating among students contagious?

According to an article on, new research suggests some interesting conclusions:

"The idea was to see how many of the students followed the cheater's example—to see if blatant dishonesty boosted cheating among students generally. And it did, dramatically. But the psychologists added another twist to the experiment: sometimes they had the actor wear the T shirt of a rival university, other times not. They wanted to see if the cheater's group identity—classmate or outsider—influenced the level of copycat cheating. That is, would students cheat more (or less) when they saw a rival cheat, as compared to seeing a compatriot cheat?

The results were unambiguous. As reported in the March issue of Psychological Science, fellow classmates had much more influence than outsiders. Indeed, seeing a rival cheat actually lowered the level of overall cheating slightly—compared to students who simply cheated on their own initiative, without any prodding. These findings argue against the "cold calculation" theory of cheating. After all, if the students only weighed the can-I-get-away-with-it factor, then they would have been influenced equally by the successful cheating of both compatriot and outsider. And they weren't."

Case of the Week 3/9/09

Perhaps the most important rule to remember when it comes to character and fitness exams? Be honest! Full disclosure is of utmost importance to the bar examiners.

For example, a 2009 Ohio applicant who had been convicted of speeding eight times, in addition to convictions for disorderly conduct and assault, was denied the chance to take the exam. In re Acton, 2009 WL 349793 The court learned that the applicant was cited for speeding four more times after he applied to take the exam, which he failed to disclose to the examiners—the Court did not buy the applicant’s explanation that he was “just forgetful” and had attention-deficit disorder. The court also noted that the applicant failed to disclose a default judgment for unpaid credit card debt in 2001.

When Career Counselors Say It's Okay to Use Humor in Job Searches...

...this is likely NOT what they mean!

Above the Law reports that an unemployed attorney took an unconventional approach to drafting a cover letter--using excerpts from nine other firms' form rejection letters sent to the applicant.

On the Above the Law website, the letter reads:

"Your colleagues from other competitive firms have had a great deal to say about me; therefore, I would like to share with you some of their opinions. Alston & Bird writes, "your qualifications are impressive." Remarkably, Blank Rome makes an identical assertion. McKee Nelson also express this view but do not limit its opinion to my qualifications. Rather, it considers my "credentials and qualifications" to be "impressive." Chadbourne & Parke takes a different focus, indicating that my "background is impressive."

Other firms convey similar opinions with a different focal point. Epstein, Becker & Green is "impressed" with "my credentials." According to King & Spalding, my "resume is impressive." Furthermore, Debevoise & Plimpton feels slightly more strongly, stating that they were "most impressed" with my resume. Uniquely commenting on both my background and credentials, Dow Lohnes indicates that they "were quite impressed." Cleverly using a more concise adjective-noun wording, Holland & Knight writes that I have an "impressive background."

The ABA Journal reports that the applicant received a tenth rejection within three days.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Case of the Week 3/2/09

Conduct during the bar examination matters to the examiners when assessing an applicant's character and fitness to practice law. Improper, untruthful, or unprofessional conduct during the bar exam -- like bringing in materials that are not allowed or cheating on the test -- can bar an applicant's admission.

A 2008 Ohio applicant was not admitted to the bar after consciously disregarding the examiners’ instructions to stop writing during the essay portion of the bar exam and continuing to write her answers for a few minutes after time was called. In re Application of Nwankwo, 2009 WL 214571. The court was not convinced by the petitioner’s explanation that she was “so invested” in passing the bar exam that she was “desperate” to write down everything she could remember.

Discussion Question 3/2/09

Note: These periodic discussion questions are designed to inspire dialogue about law student ethics and professionalism, whether through in-class discussions, informal discussions, or in the form of comments online.

In what ways can law schools teach concepts dealing with ethics and professionalism in the following areas? In what ways does your law school incorporate ethics and professionalism into the following courses or areas of academics? Please share success stories as well as areas where there may be room for improvement:

* Law student clinics
* Academic components to internships and externships
* Substantive courses
* Legal research and writing courses
* Academic counseling and support