Sunday, January 23, 2011

According to Ohio, "JD" means Licensed Attorney - image

I'm slowly but surely crossing states of the list of places I'm willing to live. Arizona came off a long time ago and I'm officially putting Ohio on notice.

The ABA Journal recently reported that an Ohio judge ruled that a disbarred law grad can't use 'JD' after his name. The person at issue, Bruce Andrew Brown, is definitely a shady character. He has an extensive criminal record that includes multiple felonies (grand theft and forgery just to name a few), for a more complete list see the Supreme Court of Ohio Report. Long story short: Shady fellow who lies and steals a lot is disbarred in 1992. He uses his 'JD' title to mislead people into believing that he's an attorney, kind of frequently. Ohio slams him with the (rightful) conviction of practicing law without a license. So far I'm on board.

Here's where I think the profession starts sounding douchey. The judge also ruled that Brown can't use "Esq.," "Esquire," "Juris Doctor" or "JD" after his name. Seriously? This is something we care about? It conjures up images of the Princess Diana situation post-divorce. Is there anyone out there who thinks those policies are useful or relevant?

Worse, it's just inaccurate. He may not be the best representation of the legal profession, but Mr. Brown has, in fact, earned his JD (from Columbia Law School none the less). If "JD" means you are a licensed attorney, then the preparation and application for the bar exam should be included in my tuition and law school training. My law school has supplied me with no shortage of fast talking lines about how "applicable" my degree will be even if I don't practice. Doesn't that mean that whether or not I'm licensed I'm still a "JD"?

Mr. Brown is a loser but that doesn't mean a judge in Ohio can deny him an accomplishment he earned long ago. And really, at the end of the day does it matter what the letters behind his name are when the address below them belongs to a county jail?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

If you're in debt you must be shady. Wait. What?

So, at this point you've read about the Ohio Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Ohio Board of Commissioners on Character and Fitness's rejection of Jonathan Griffin's application to the bar, right?

Mr. Griffin is in $170,000 of education debt and $16,500 of credit card debt. He works 24-32 hours a week at the Public Defender's office for $12 an hour. The board as well as the court deemed Griffin unfit to practice law because he didn't have a plan for dealing with his debt. Um, I'm pretty sure his plan was to PASS THE BAR and get a job as the lawyer. In the words of Above the Law, "What the hell kind of legal education system are we running where we charge people more than they can afford to get a legal education, and then prevent them from being lawyers because they can't pay off their debts?" Amen.

I've written about law school debt before. I've also written about my issues with the character and fitness portion of the bar application. But seriously folks, is this the kind of club anyone wants to be part of? Being unable to pay $100,000 in tuition up front makes you unfit? If you're an irresponsible rich kid whose parents bankrolled them through law school all is well? It's the American dream I guess.

If you're as outraged as I am, here's the roster of the Ohio Board of Commissioners on Character and Fitness. Write these folks a couple letters letting them know how classist you think their decision is.

In case you don't want to risk spending any more loan money on postage, here are the email addresses for the folks who work for private firms (and hence had easy to find email addresses):

Todd C. Hicks, Esq., Chair -
G.Scott McBride -
Andrew J. Dorman -
Suzanne K. Richards -
John C. Fairweather -

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lies My Teacher Told Me

I was recently informed that I'd missed my opportunity to post on Martin Luther King Day. So here's the delayed post. :)

I've always thought that the ways we choose to rewrite history are interesting (if you don't know what I've talking about go read
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong or A People's History of the United States). For example, when I was in grade school I was taught that Rosa Parks was an old lady who was tired and decided she was going to sit down in a whites only section of a public bus. Do you have any idea how insulted I was when I found out that (1) she wasn't old and (2) she wasn't doing it on her own? I wasn't taught until college that Ms. Parks was an organizer with the NAACP. That she and her partner had long conversations about her participation. And, finally, that she wasn't alone. Her protest was the result of hours and hours of planning by numerous civil right activists.

The message I got from the Rosa Parks story when I was young was that one person can make a difference. The alternate message I could have gotten was that systems of oppression are deep rooted but that a team of dedicated people can work together to make a difference. I believe that we do ourselves and our children a disservice when we teach them watered down or just plain inaccurate history. But I think we, as a society, do this deliberately. I think we've decided that we don't want children (especially children of color and low income children) to organize. We want them to value individuality and to take individual actions that wont have far reaching effects. We don't want to train them to form communities, work together, and take risk for the greater good. So we tell them that Rosa did it on her own. I don't know about you, but I don't want to subscribe to that kind of fucked up fairytale.

Now, back to MLK day. Don't get me wrong, Dr. King is one of my heroes. I'm thrilled that we have a national holiday in his honor. But I think we should teach an expanded history. We should teach, as Dr. King did, about Black pride, about histories of oppression, and about peace. Dr. King's quotes about nonviolence are oft quoted but his work opposing the Vietnam War is almost nonexistant in the history books. Did any of your MLK day celebrations include and a conversation about our continued presence in Afghanistan? Did you honor Dr. King's legacy by protesting occupation? Did you talk about ideas of multicultural beauty? The continued prevalence of Whiteness as the dominant culture?

At the end of the day, we are still rewriting history in a way that is palatable to a dominant class (white) norm. We should talk about the way out text books are written and who's writing them. We should question what aspects of historical figure's lives we're remembering...and what we're choosing not to. In which ways are we closing our eyes to oppression and simply accepting the status quo?

Happy (belated) MLK day...may Dr. King's legacy remind us to remember history with the complexity to do it justice and to at least think about the things we are not yet brave enough to talk about.

Related Links:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I'm (sorta) Famous!

Ok, not really famous at all. But! Have you opened your latest copy of Student Lawyer Magazine? Much to my surprise, Reconstructing Law School's Three Easy Mistakes Not to Make on your Resume post is featured in their In Brief section. It would have been nice if they'd provided a link; but none the less, it's always so freakin' flattering to know that other people read (and like!) this blog. Thanks Student Lawyer!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I'm calling her Sandy

There are a group of about two hundred 3Ls who believe that I am a transgender woman with a same-sex partner who lives in Iowa. I kid you not. Oh, and I live in Colorado so my wife and I miss each other a lot.

I’m calling my imaginary wife Sandy.

How did they arrive at this conclusion, you might wonder? Well, what can I say, the two hundred people were a conference of crazy people. Ok, not true, I was at the CLEO Mid-Winter Bar Preparation Seminar in DC and my fellow conference attendees were smart, delightful 3Ls. So let me explain…

On the second day of the programming three very nice bar examiners, representing California, Virginia, and DC, sat on a panel talking about the moral character portion of admittance to the various bar associations. I did my best to suppress my gag reflex as the three (old white) men yammered on about how reasonable the application was and that they’re “just looking for honest people.” During the Q&A most students asked questions about DUIs and foreclosures. I was tempted to ask how well the fitness portion of the bar admittance was working… making 3Ls submit divorce papers and driving records was keeping all the unethical lawyers out right? Oh, wait… In the interest of respecting all the effort CLEO had gone through to put this panel together, I resisted.

What I couldn’t resist was bringing up what my politically conservative little brother has affectionately termed “the gay stuff.” After patiently waiting my turn for the microphone I simply had to ask if these examiners had ever viewed their questions through the eyes of a lesbian woman or trans man. “Hi, my question is about whether or not your states are inclusive of the LGBT community. For example, do you present a third gender option, other than male or female, for transgendered individuals who may not fit neatly into those categories? Also, if you ask for marital status, do you ask for a jurisdiction? Say I’m married to a same sex partner in Iowa but living in and applying to the bar in Colorado where marriage isn’t legal. The marital status question isn’t so clear cut, unless it asks for the jurisdiction where I am married.” Crickets.

Other than crickets, you could hear the sounds of confused bar examiners furiously flipping through their questionnaires. Well, with the exception of Virginia, who simply said, “Um, no, we’re not inclusive. But I can bring it up at our next meeting.” Thanks sir, but that doesn’t help 3Ls who are currently filling out their applications. California told me that he didn’t think there were more than two genders and that marriage in California was still illegal. I pointed out that, unless his application asked for the state, I could be legally married in another state. “What, then sir, is the correct answer to the marital status question?” The crickets and I were becoming close friends at this point.

I did appreciate Virginia’s candor. I also appreciated that all of the men were actually thinking about the issue, perhaps for the first time. It’s true that I asked the question essentially already knowing the answer. I know that most bar associations are not inclusive and that it’s downright impossible for many LGBT people to answer demographic questions completely and honestly; the questions aren’t open ended and the correct answers aren’t options. Knowing the answers, however, doesn’t make hearing them any less frustrating. What was nice, however, was getting a chance to look at them with honesty and challenge the organizations they represent for what they are: nutty and exclusive. Really, how often do you get to raise an eyebrow at the man, in front of 200 potential attorneys no less? That, I can tell you, felt pretty good.

You’ll have to excuse me now; I think Sandy has dinner on the table.

Related Links:

State Department makes passport applications more inclusive.
Gender change on passports.
Queer the Census.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I just read about 5,982 emails from student leaders in a group I run. We're trying to coordinate a good time for a board meeting and there was a lot of "Well, I can meet from 12-12:32 but I think Jane has work at 12:15, so what about 8am?" going on. I finally created a Doodle to get us organized. What can I say, sometimes the internet sets wonderfully useful (and free!) tools in your lap.

If you weren't already using this to schedule meetings with lots of busy people you can thank me later.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Statistically speaking, 60% of statistics are made up (maybe including this one)

Have you read David Segal's New York Times article, Is Law School a Losing Game? Not to direct people away from Reconstructing Law School, but if you haven't read it you should go do that now. It's an interesting read.

There are no shortage of Law-School-is-a-Scam blogs out there. And, to be honest, sometimes I agree with much of what they have to say. Whether or not law school itself is a scam is up for debate. What shouldn't be disputed at this point is that the stats reported by law schools are a total scam.

As Segal's article points out, "Enron-type accounting standards" have become the norm in the world of law school statistics. Segal does a great job of explaining the article so I wont regurgitate it here; but, anyone who has graduated in the last few years certainly knows that 90% of their peers are not least not permanently...and definitely not all in legal jobs. At a minimum, it's unethical for law schools to provide students with "massaged" statistics upon which the students are basing $200k investment decisions.

As Restoring Dignity to the Law points out, change to the current system of law school statistics reporting and US News and World Reports rankings needs to come from the outside. Currently the rankings are based entirely on "unaudited surveys conducted by each law school using questions devised by the American Bar Association and the National Association for Law Placement." If we can all agree that the law school administrators are about as effective at self policing as my pug is at keeping out of an unguarded cookie jar...then shouldn't the ABA, NALP, and USNWR be the safe guards?

Law schools are cash cows. I, for one, don't expect any one particular law school to start being honest on its own. It would surely fall dozens of spots and risk oodles of fundraising dollars in the process. It's an all or nothing deal; they are all going to be honest or they are all going to be shady. Right now, being shady is more lucrative. Shouldn't the ABA, NALP, and USNWR hold all schools accountable (thereby not punishing one in particular)?

I find myself particularly disappointed in NALP, an organization that claims to place a high value on diversity initiatives. It seems that the inaccurate information provided by law schools in USNWR would have a particularly devastating effect on people of color and first generation college students. Those are the students who are the most dependent on loans and have some of the weakest networks for securing legal work after graduation.

The ABA, NALP, and USNWR have an opportunity here to actually support diversity. Not just to support initiatives or make broad feel-good statements but to make systemic changes that will help all students by providing us with much needed accurate information. Accurate information would particularly benefit under represented students since they are the least likely to have first hand knowledge of the legal profession.

I'm looking forward to seeing if any change actually happens.

Oh, and by the way, I'm back to blogging after the busy holiday/finals season. :) Stay tuned for more frequent updates: a story about my run in with the nosy bitches themselves, how to survive the day when grades come out and why I need to make friends with some 5 year olds.