Latest Scholarship

May 19, 2017

Guest Blogging on Concurring Opinions about Whiteness, Class, Rurality

I've been guest blogging for the past few weeks over at Concurring Opinions and invite you over to that blog, on "the law, the universe, and everything" to see what I've been writing.  I've done a four-installment review/commentary on J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy:  A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.  Spoiler Alert:  I'm not a big fan but, in the end, suggest that the book can help law profs better understand the low-income white students who (thankfully, yes, thankfully!) show up in our classrooms from time to time.  My posts are:

On Donald Trump, J.D. Vance, and the White Working Class

Hillbilly Elegy as Rorschach Test

The "Shock and Awe" Response to Hillbilly Elegy:  Pondering the Role of Race

On Ree Dolly, J.D. Vance and Empathy for Low-Income Whites (or, What Hillbilly Elegy is Good for)

I've also done a bit of writing about rurality, with these posts:

Rurality and Government Retreat

Local Journalism as Antidote to Echo Chambers and Fake News

Also related to rurality are these posts about spatiality and abortion access. 

Did You Hear the One About the Alaska Legislator Who Said ... 

Sanger's Tour de Force on Abortion (with a Blind Spot for Geography)

Carol Sanger of Columbia Law responded to my post about her new book, About Abortion:  Terminating Pregnancy in the 21st Century, here.  I love the fact she says I get the "last word" in our exchange over the significance of geography.

I expect to post another item or two before my term as a guest blogger expires in about a week. 

January 10, 2017

The strangest thing happened at the AALS last week

I have attended the Association of American Law Schools annual meeting for many of the 17+ years I have been a law professor, but I experienced something at last week's annual conference in San Francisco that I had never before seen or heard, something that came as a pleasant surprise.   Attendees were actually talking about rural people and places--including in a plenary session on the future of the legal profession.

For more than a decade now, I have worked to establish as a sub-discipline what I call "law and rural livelihoods" (I've taught a seminar by that name for eight years), and my Legal Ruralism blog is part of that effort.  One of my overarching arguments is that most legal scholarship implicitly embraces an urban norm--and that some legal scholarship is explicitly urbanormative.  Yet in all my years of attending gatherings of law professors, I have consistently been the only person in the room talking about rural people and places--I've literally been the only person using the word "rural."  I've often joked that I'm the "rural lady," perhaps analogous to SNL's "church lady," a character with a one-track mind who keeps showing up and making the same overarching point. Over the years, this approach has attracted a lot of eye-rolling, ongoing marginalization.  But it has remained the case that rural people and places have been omitted from so many scholarly conversations about law--and from so many scholarly works on topics that, to my mind, have an obvious rural or spatial angle, e.g., reproductive justice, poverty.

So, imagine my surprise when, following the plenary on "Preparing a Diverse Profession to Serve a Diverse World," with key note by Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft Corporation (and, incidentally, my boss at Covington & Burling London in 1992 and later my client, from 1996-98, when I returned to Covington and he was in house at Microsoft),  Lauren Robel of Indiana University School of Law asked the first question, which was essentially "what about rural?"  She noted that she had recently been in southern Indiana, which is quite rural, and that shortages of broadband and lawyers are two challenges plaguing the region.  She also referenced the recent NPR story about the "epic" shortage of rural lawyers, a story that quoted me and mentioned the work I have done on the rural lawyer shortage.  After Robel broke the ice with a reference to rural Indiana, several others referenced "rural" in the ensuing conversation.  This was interesting in part because Smith had, early in his talk, referenced a small town in southwest Virginia where Microsoft has a server farm, but he had not used the word "rural."  As the conversation unfolded, however, the word became part of the discussion in a way that seemed, well, natural.

This was somewhat similar to what had happened the day before in a discussion session in which I participated:   Community Development Law and Economic Justice--Why Law Matters.  About a dozen scholars were invited in advance to participate in this discussion, including me.  Because I don't "do" community development law or work as such, I assumed I was invited to participate because of my work on rurality, including rural poverty, thus implicating issues of economic justice.  Once I got the ball rolling by talking about my rural-focused scholarship, several other participants mentioned "rural," including "rural and urban," as in referencing the prospect of intra-regional CED collaborations and such.  (Let me be clear that this usually doesn't happen; when I'm on a panel talkig about "rural," I typically remain silo-ed as such).  I commented that I thought much of the attention to "rural and urban" was racially coded (though it is not necessarily accurate to conflate rurality with whiteness, it is a common phenomenon), as a way to get at cross-racial collaborations, which I very much support (indeed, cross-racial cooperation among low-income folks is a big focus of my scholarship right now).  I also joked that I had not heard as many mentions of "rural" in my entire 17 years of attending law prof. conferences as I had in that 1.75 hour-long session!  Perhaps colleagues in this session--where I was invited to the conversation because I am a ruralist--were humoring me. 

So, is this attention to rurality among legal educators the wave of the future?  or just a temporary dalliance, a moment of intrigue and curiosity, as we absorb the results of the 2016 election and the role that rural America apparently played in Trump's win?  I'm hoping for the former because mainstream (even liberal! highly educated! elite!) attention to rural issues and rural people might help us avert another electoral disaster in two years, or four.  

Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism.

February 4, 2016

California Legal History: A King Hall Issue

The 2015 issue of California Legal History could easily be titled the King Hall issue. A publication of the California Supreme Court Historical Society, it is an annual journal that publishes scholarly articles and the oral histories of prominent figures of the bench and bar of California.

Here are some of the articles in the new issue:

A tribute to Hon. Joseph R. Grodin by our own Cruz Reynoso.

My contribution on "Justice Cruz Reynoso: The People's Justice."

An oral history of Cruz Reynoso.

A student symposium on three intersections of federal and California law (which I blogged about previously).

The symposium features an introduction by Professor John Oakley and contributions by Kelsey Hollander '15, Megha Bhatt '15, and Elaine Won '16!

October 28, 2015

Campus Community Book Project and Addressing "The Divide"

Is this the "Age of the Wealth Gap?"

Investigative reporter and Rolling Stone contributor Matt Taibbi says yes. His New York Times bestselling book, "The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap," is the featured work in this year's UC Davis Campus Community Book Project.

It was my pleasure last week to take part in the first of three book events at the School of Law: a panel discussion titled "Addressing 'The Divide' - 'If You Cannot Afford One...': Access to Legal Counsel in the Age of Inequality." Speakers included Yolo County Deputy Public Defender Ronald Johnson '04, Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC) Executive Director Gary Smith, and LSNC Deputy Director Julie Aguilar-Rogado.  As lawyers and professors involved in serving, researching and/or teaching about low-income populations and access to justice issues, we all agreed that little about Taibbi's book surprised us, even though Taibbi wrote as if he were shocked by his findings.  


Ron Johnson '04, Gary Smith, Julie Aguilar-Rogado, and me

Among the topics we discussed were the civil justice gap between wealthy folks and those who qualify for legal assistance from legal aid organizations such as LSNC, which is funded in part by the Legal Services Corporation.  Smith and Aguilar-Rogado described how LSNC is not only providing direct services to low-income populations in the 23-county area they serve in Northern California, but how they are also pro-actively seeking enforcement of many laws that can assist the poor.  In a sense, LSNC is acting as a private attorney general in advocacy to compel counties to live up to statutory mandates that would benefit low-income populations.  I talked about the rural-urban justice gap, including the shortage of lawyers serving rural counties generally, and low-income rural residents in particular.  Our talented alum Ron Johnson spoke about his decade of experience as a public defender.  In particular, he talked about some of the particular struggles facing many who are caught up in the criminal justice system, problems including joblessness, poverty, and mental illness.  Johnson observed that we need to devote more attention to such root causes of crime and mentioned that his office has social workers -- and not only lawyers -- to assist the clients.  

Two more Campus and Community Book events will be held at King Hall. On November 2, the clinical faculty will discuss the human impact of criminal and immigration detention. Then, on February 1, Professors Elizabeth Joh and Thomas Joo will discuss structural inequality in American policing and prosecution. 

For a full list of the book events across campus, visit http://occr.ucdavis.edu/ccbp2015/events/index.html. The events will conclude with an appearance by author Matt Taibbi at the Mondavi Center on February 3, a talk I am very much looking forward to hearing.

March 16, 2015

Breaking News: California Grants Law License to Hong Yen Chang

Today, the California Supreme Court today issued its opinion in In Re Hong Yen Chang. The first line says it all: "We grant Hong Yen Chang posthumous admission as an attorney and counselor at law in all courts of the state of California." (emphasis added).

More than a century ago, Chang was denied the opportunity to practice law in California because of his race.  Professor Jack Chin, a leading civil rights law professor, has been working on the case with the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association students and the law firm of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP.

Congratulations to all involved in this important effort to right a historic wrong. Congratulations, too, to the family of Hong Yen Chang, many of whom are lawyers right here in California.

See coverage of today's developments from major news outlets including Reuters, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Associated Press, among others.

March 13, 2015

California Supreme Court to Rule on Bar Admission of Hong Yen Chang

Cross-posted from Immigration Prof Blog.

Last spring, ImmigrationProf reported on the efforts of UC Davis law students to seek the posthumous admission of Hong Yen Chang to the California State Bar. More than a century ago,  Chang was denied the opportunity to practice law in California because of his race.

Students in the UC Davis School of Law Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) asked the California Supreme Court to admit Hong Yen Chang to the bar. Professor Jack Chin, a leading civil rights law professor, has been working on the case with the APALSA students and the law firm of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP.

The California Supreme Court announced today that it would file an opinion in the case next Monday.  Stay tuned!

January 5, 2015

Additional Thoughts (and Concerns) About the Low Bar Pass Rates in California and Elsewhere in 2014

Cross-posted from Justia's Verdict.

About a month ago I wrote an essay for this website commenting on the drop in bar passage rates in many states in the fall of 2014. I focused on the large national decrease in scores that test takers received on the so-called Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), a 190-question multiple-choice exam that accounts for much of the entire bar exam in most states, and on remarks made by Erica Moeser, who heads the organization that makes and scores the MBE (the National Committee of Bar Examiners or NCBE), to the effect that this year's takers were "less able." Much has happened since I wrote that essay: on November 25, about 80 law deans (I should note my dean at UC Davis was not among them) joined in a letter to Ms. Moeser requesting that "a thorough investigation of the administration and scoring of the July bar exam" be conducted, and that "the methodology and results of the investigation . . . be made fully transparent to all law school deans and state bar examiners" so that there might be "independent expert review" of the exam's "integrity and fairness"; on December 18, Ms. Moeser responded with a letter, and an attached essay from NCBE's quarterly magazine that provided additional analysis and data; and other states, including the largest state, California, have in recent weeks released details on bar passage within their jurisdictions. In the space below, I analyze some of these recent developments, with specific reference to what likely accounts for the large drop in MBE performance (and thus bar pass rates in many states) this year.

Ms. Moeser's Letter Defends the NCBE Against Implicit Criticism by Law Deans

I begin with Ms. Moeser's formal responses to the law deans. The tone of her letter suggests she feels a bit attacked by the deans (and her perception in this regard is probably understandable). She apologizes, sort of, for using the term "less able" in a way that might suggest anything other than the simple fact that the 2014 test takers did not do as well as did test takers the previous year. But even as she makes clear she did not intend to offend or distract by using that term, she seems to bristle at a term used by the deans in their letter: "integrity." Ms. Moeser appears to understand the deans' request for an examination of the "integrity and fairness of the July 2014" exam as questioning the honesty or professional qualifications of NCBE personnel. In reality, I suspect the deans used the word "integrity" in reference not to the personal or professional character of the test makers, but to the soundness of the July 2014 test itself. As we all try to get to the bottom of why test takers scored less well this year, it would be nice not to be overly burdened by linguistic sensitivities.

On the question of whether the 2014 exam was more difficult than usual, Ms. Moeser's letter reassures deans that NCBE has "reviewed and re-reviewed" every "aspect of [its] methodology and execution[,]" and that the July 2014 test has been examined multiple times and by different, independent psychometricians to guarantee that it was no more difficult than the 2013 test or previous tests. Ms. Moeser makes clear, however, that "the results of our studies will not be revealed publicly [because] [o]ur systems are proprietary, and security is essential." Her steadfast refusal to turn over specifics about NCBE's "equating" process (used to ensure that difficulty remains constant across test administrations) may not sit well with some of the deans who want outside experts to be able to verify NCBE is comparing tests properly. I can certainly understand that the NCBE does not want to make public the actual text of the questions it has used (and might continue to use) in order to equate the difficulty of one test administration with another, but perhaps NCBE could share more details about the way equating questions are selected, and on the precise statistical inferences that it draws based on taker performance on these equating items. Maybe there is no middle ground, but I would not be surprised if some deans persist in seeking more technical detail.

Ms. Moeser's Essay Contains Some Unhelpful Explanations

The magazine essay Ms. Moeser attaches to her letter provides additional context, and also includes data about LSAT scores for students at the 25th percentile of LSAT performance for each ABA-approved law school for the classes that entered in the fall of 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. (Data for fall 2014 became available just a few weeks ago and weren't included in Ms. Moeser's essay.) One the one hand, a number of points Ms. Moeser makes in her essay do not seem particularly relevant to understanding the dramatic aggregate drop in MBE scores in 2014 from 2013. For example, she points out that the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) now asks schools to report the highest LSAT performance for each law student, rather than the average LSAT performance for each. This change made by LSAC might make it harder for a law school to compare and analyze its own bar exam performance over a long period of time, but since LSAC made this change before the class graduating in 2013 entered law school (in fall of 2010), the reporting policy would not seem relevant to comparing the bar performance of the class graduating in 2013 and the one graduating in 2014 (the latter of which saw the dramatic drop in bar performance).

Ms. Moeser also observes that some law schools accept more transfer applicants these days (perhaps in part because this is a way to keep a school's headcount and tuition dollars high without diluting the admissions credentials of the entering first-year class, since the characteristics of persons who transfer in as second-year students aren't included in those credentials). This phenomenon undoubtedly exists at some schools, and it may complicate a particular school's efforts to compare its current bar passage rates with those from an earlier era (when it didn't accept as many transfers), but this modern increase in transfers can't easily explain a national drop in MBE performance this year, since every student who transferred presumably would have taken the MBE whether s/he transferred or not. I suppose the transfer phenomenon might affect aggregate MBE performance if there were some "mismatch" effect (of the kind that Rick Sander has asserted, and that his critics reject, with respect to affirmative action) taking place when people transfer to schools for which they are not academically suited. But Ms. Moeser does not suggest this (or any other) theory for why an increase in transfers might affect aggregate bar performance, and I am unaware of any evidence of a transfer mismatch effect. Moreover, the number of transfers who graduated in 2014, while larger than in past years, wouldn't seem big enough to move the aggregate bar performance numbers very much this year even if there were such an effect.

Ms. Moeser's essay also posits that curricular changes in law school, ranging from an increase in ungraded externships and other experiential learning offerings, to fewer (or shorter) required black-letter courses, may be causing test takers to be less well-prepared for the bar exam. But any such curricular changes have been taking place gradually across the country, and unless there were some tipping point that was reached with respect to the class that graduated in 2014 compared to the class that graduated a year earlier, these changes would not likely contribute greatly to an abrupt and significant change in bar performance from one year to the next.

Ms. Moeser's Essay Also Contains Some Probably Fruitful Explanations

On the other hand, Ms. Moeser does adduce facts that tend to support her contention that the July 2014 MBE was no more difficult than earlier tests. First, she says that 2014 test takers performed worse on the very "equating items drawn from previous July test administrations" than did students from past years. Assuming the equating items are reasonably well chosen, weaker performance on those identical items would be indicative of a group that would perform more poorly on the test generally.

Second, she points out that the July 2014 test takers also performed more poorly relative to prior law graduates on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)-which most graduating 2014 students took earlier in 2014 or in 2013. Ms. Moeser's suggestion that recent score declines on the MPRE (which tests legal ethics in a multiple-choice format similar to the MBE's) can be seen as precursors to the 2014 MBE decline is interesting, and may bolster her conclusion that the MBE was properly equated and scored-provided that the MPRE has itself been properly equated and scored and that the MPRE and the MBE exams test similar skills.

Third, and probably most powerfully, she describes how many law schools, even as they have reduced entering class size, have enrolled lower LSAT performers, perhaps especially importantly at the 25th percentile of a law school's entering class. In addition to this, she points out that we know nothing about matriculants "below the 25th percentile . . . ; the tail of the curve leaves a lot of mystery, as the credentials of candidates so situated. . . and the degree of change [from previous years] are unknown." To be sure, this may be a group at many law schools that often struggles with bar passage, and a decline in the 25th percentile LSAT performance (and within that bottom of a school's LSAT quartiles) could explain lower bar pass rates at many schools.

If we look at the 25th percentile LSAT scores at all the nation's ABA-approved law schools for the classes that entered in 2010 (and took the bar in 2013) and the classes that entered in 2011 (and took the bar in 2014), we see that, on average, 25th percentile LSAT scores slipped by about half an LSAT point. Perhaps worse yet (because decreases in LSAT scores in the higher ranges of LSAT performance may have less importance to bar passage), the number of law schools whose 25th percentile LSAT performance was in the bottom half of LSAT scores nationwide (an LSAT score of 151 or below) grew from 62 schools for the class entering in 2010, to 71 schools for the class entering in 2011. And, as Ms. Moeser points out, the (unobserved) drop-off within the bottom LSAT quartile at many schools may be more ominous indeed.

Of course, as I said a month ago, weaker LSAT performance might be accompanied by higher college GPAs and other indicia of academic strength. And some schools suffering LSAT score drops might be shrinking in size quite dramatically, such that their effect on national bar pass rates might be lessened. So much more analysis is needed before the full picture is understood. But it appears that beginning with the class that entered law school in 2011, there has generally been some decrease in LSAT performance, and that such decrease may account for a good chunk (though likely not all) of this year's lower bar performance.

What Preliminary Analysis of California's Recently Released Data Suggests

The results released this week in California seem to be consistent with this account. Overall, it was a tough year for bar passage in the Golden State. One out of every three first-time takers from ABA-approved schools throughout the country failed the California bar exam. Among the particularly depressing facts is that first-time African American takers from ABA-approved law schools had a pass rate of only 42%. When we look at first-time takers from ABA-approved schools located in California (who often do better than takers from ABA-approved schools in other states), Latina/o takers suffered a big decline this year; whereas White and Asian first-time California ABA-school takers saw their pass rates drop about 5% as compared to 2013, Latina/o takers saw their pass rate drop over 10%, to just 59.5%. At least four well-established California schools--UC Hastings, University of San Francisco, Santa Clara and Southwestern--experienced first-time pass rates (of 68%, 61%, 60% and 54%, respectively) that were the lowest in 18 or more years. (The data I had went back only to 1997, so this year's performance might well be the worst in more than 20 years for these schools.)

And there does seem to be a correlation between declines at the 25th percentile LSAT score and lower bar pass rates among the California schools this year. Eleven schools saw their 25th percentile LSAT score drop between the class that entered in 2010 and the class that entered in 2011, and 9 of these schools saw their bar pass rates also drop. (One of the schools that saw its 25th percentile LSAT score go down but whose bar pass rate did not decline was USC, and its 25th percentile LSAT remained quite high-above 160-for the class entering in 2011.) The California school that saw the sharpest drop at the 25th percentile LSAT score in fall of 2011, UC Hastings, suffered, as I noted above, its worst bar pass rate in decades. And among the three schools in California whose 25th percentile LSAT scores increased in fall 2011 compared to the year before, two of those schools (UC Davis and UC Berkeley-both of whose 25th percentile LSATs were above 160 in 2011) saw their bar pass rates increase a bit (UC Davis from 85% in 2013 to 86% in 2014, and UC Berkeley from 85% in 2013 to 88% this year.) Only four schools statewide saw bar pass rates increase at all, and Berkeley's increase of 3% was the largest.

Obviously, as mentioned earlier, much more than a school's 25th percentile or median LSAT score goes into its bar pass rate, and year-to-year variations in bar passage are unavoidable at each school, even if student academic quality remains constantly high. There is likely no single factor that explains all of this year's bar performance decline. But Ms. Moeser's suggestion that we delve deeply into the admissions and academic support functions of law schools if we want to raise pass rates (as long as we have to live with a questionable device like the bar exam) is well worth heeding. And incoming admissions numbers do not bode well for bar pass rates for the next few years. In California, for example, the four schools I mentioned whose bar pass rates are at twenty-first century lows (UC Hastings, University of San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Southwestern) all have seen significant slippage at the 25th percentile in the last three years since the fall of 2011. And nationally, the number of schools whose 25th percentile LSAT score is below the national median score (i.e., 151 or below) grew again in the fall of 2012 (from 71 to 80), and yet again in the fall of 2013 (from 80 to 90), and likely grew again in 2014. Unless bar examiners across the country lower the threshold for passage (which in most states they insist they never do), or unless law schools find some new, highly effective academic success tools to help students do better on the bar--and find them very quickly--I fear that the difficult news about bar pass rates we experienced this fall will recur each year for the foreseeable future.

May 1, 2014

UC Davis law students seek to right historic wrong with posthumous California Bar admission of Chinese lawyer

More than a century after a New York lawyer was denied the opportunity to practice law in California because of state laws that barred Chinese immigrants from most careers and opportunities, UC Davis law students are seeking his posthumous admission to the California State Bar.

The students in the UC Davis School of Law Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) are asking the State Bar of California, and eventually the California Supreme Court, to admit Hong Yen Chang, who was denied a license to practice law in California in 1890.

Chang attended Yale as part of the Chinese Educational Mission, a pioneering program initiated by the Chinese government. He then left the United States and later returned on his own to study law. He earned a degree from Columbia Law School in 1886 and sat for the New York bar exam by special act of the legislature. When he was admitted to the New York state bar, The New York Times reported that Chang was the first Chinese immigrant admitted to any bar in the United States. In 1890, he came to California with the intention of serving San Francisco's Chinese community as an attorney.

At that time, the federal Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese immigrants from naturalizing as citizens, and a California law prohibited noncitizens from practicing law in the state. Taken together, these laws made it impossible for people of Chinese descent to earn law licenses in the state. Chang petitioned the California Supreme Court, but was denied admission.

He went on to a distinguished career in banking and diplomacy, but his story was not forgotten. Now, the students are seeking a symbolic victory on behalf of Chang and others who suffered as a result of laws that discriminated against the Chinese.

"Admitting Mr. Chang would be a powerful symbol of our state's repudiation of laws that singled out Chinese immigrants for discrimination," said Gabriel "Jack" Chin, a professor at UC Davis School of Law and APALSA's faculty adviser on the project. "At the time Chang was excluded from the practice of law in California, discrimination against Chinese persons was widespread. Congress prohibited all Chinese immigration. Even the California Constitution dedicated an entire article to restricting the rights of Chinese residents."

The UC Davis School of Law California Supreme Court Clinic is representing APALSA in the case. It has formally requested the State Bar to support the project and will file a petition with the California Supreme Court seeking Chang's admission. The clinic, the first and only law school clinic of its kind, represents parties and amici in a wide range of both civil and criminal matters pending before the California Supreme Court.

Other states have posthumously admitted applicants who were excluded from their respective bars based on similar discriminatory laws. In 2001, the Washington Supreme Court admitted Takuji Yamashita, a Japanese immigrant who had been refused admission to the profession in 1902. And in 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court posthumously admitted George B. Vashon, an African American who had been denied admission in 1847 because of race.  

Chang's descendants remain in the San Francisco Bay Area, including grandniece Rachelle Chong, the first Asian American to serve as a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission and of the California Public Utilities Commission. "In my generation, our family is extremely fortunate to have three lawyers admitted to the California State Bar: my cousins Suzanne Ah Tye, Kirk Ah Tye, and myself," said Chong. "It would be fitting and right to have my granduncle's exclusion reversed by the California Supreme Court to ensure that justice, albeit late, is done. Our family is honored that the UC Davis APALSA students have taken up the issue of righting a terrible wrong."

"From its inception more than 40 years ago, UC Davis School of Law has been dedicated to the ideals of social justice and equality espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for whom our law school building is named," said Dean Kevin R. Johnson. "This effort by our students and faculty to admit Hong Yen Chang to the California State Bar stands strongly within that tradition and is deserving of support."

For more information on the effort to gain bar admission for Hong Yen Chang, contact Professor Gabriel "Jack" Chin.

August 7, 2012

OUT and ABOUT: The LGBT Experience in the Legal Profession

ABA SOGI Commission

For the past three years, I have had the pleasure and the honor of serving as the Chair of the ABA Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI Commission). The SOGI Commission was created in August 2007 by approval of the Board of Governors of the ABA. Its mission is to promote full and equal participation in the legal profession and the justice system without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. The SOGI Commission seeks to further this mission through education efforts, policy development, outreach and relationship building, and other activities.

The SOGI Commission has accomplished much in its short history. For example, the SOGI Commission worked with other ABA entities and leaders to enact ABA policy supporting marriage equality for same-sex couples. This policy recommendation was overwhelmingly approved by the ABA House of Delegates in August 2010 with the support of many ABA leaders, including many Past Presidents of the ABA.

With the assistance of the SOGI Commission, the ABA submitted letters to Congress and to the Department of Defense in April 2010 urging the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Congress approved the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell about six months later. More recently, the Commission helped draft a letter to Congress urging the enactment of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA).

More information about the SOGI Commission and its work is available in our Annual Report.

Out and About Publication

Currently, the SOGI Commission is working together with the National LGBT Bar Association to produce an anthology. The purpose of this anthology is to share the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) attorneys, academics, and jurists in the legal profession, through their own words. We see this publication as a means to educate the legal profession and the general public about this diverse group, its contributions, and its struggles. The book will also serve as an inspiration to other LGBT people in the profession and to LGBT law students.

Currently, the SOGI Commission is in the process of identifying potential contributors for the publication. The Commission seeks to make the publication as diverse as possible in order to represent the breadth of LGBT persons in all aspects of the profession. Moreover, our hope is for the stories to be relevant for a multitude of readers, whether or not they identify as LGBT.

For more information about how to contribute, please visit the SOGI Commission's website.

January 28, 2011

You Can’t Tell a Book by Its Cover

In my career as a lawyer in Davis, I had a surprising and painful but beneficial discovery of the truth of the common saying that you can't tell a book by its cover. It all started when a local bank in the community asked me to handle a case for two of its customers.

At the appointed time, my new clients, a husband and wife team, showed up. When I saw the couple, I felt that my jaw had dropped and that I would fall through the floor. They were Arabs!  My belief was that they and their compatriots had many times sworn to kill all the Jews in the Middle East and wipe the State of Israel off the map. They were the enemy to me and to my support of the State of Israel.  I was also awakened to the reality that this husband and wife team knew that I was Jewish. In their eyes, I was the enemy. The couple had dark complexions, black hair, and spoke with a Middle Eastern accent.

I quickly got over the shock of this introduction so that everything proceeded calmly and cordially. I was able to gather from my clients all of the information relevant to their case as well as answer questions that they asked.

Then we set up an appointment to meet a few days prior to going to court so that we could take care of any last minute items. Right after they left, I started struggling with some profound soul searching. I had been raised in a family that believed in and practiced tolerance. But I had failed to live up to all that I was taught when put to the test of dealing with my new clients.

I knew that I could not be effective in representing the interests of my clients if I did not overcome my bias. Every lawyer has a duty to represent a client zealously and within the bounds of the law. I could not do this if my personal views conflicted with those of my clients.

Thinking further, I remembered the experience of patriot John Adams way back in 1770 in defending the British soldiers who had shot protesting citizens in the Boston Massacre. Despite sharing the views of the protestors, Adams successfully defended the British soldiers because he believed that they were entitled to a fair trial. Adams then experienced insults and ridicule from the city's "patriots." As well, his law practice diminished because few patriots would deal with a "traitor."

I remembered too the famous Skokie, Illinois case that took place in the 1970's. A group of Nazi sympathizers planned to march in Nazi uniforms in the town of Skokie where they knew that a large part of the Jewish population was made up of Holocaust survivors.

The marchers were denied a city permit to have their parade. One of the marchers then sued the city of Skokie, claiming that his right of free speech was being denied. The marcher was represented in court by a Jewish lawyer who believed that the principle of free speech was more important than the subjectivities of the client or his lawyer. The lawyer won the case for his marcher client.

I was impressed by these two historical incidents although I did not believe that the case of my clients was as profound as those two. However, influenced by those two incidents, I satisfactorily resolved my own inner conflicts and proceeded with the case. We went ahead and happily gained an easy victory.

The story does not end here. Several weeks later, when I was walking downtown early one Saturday afternoon, I bumped into two friends, Barbara and Elmer. They were dressed very formally. I asked them whose wedding they had attended. They replied that they had not been to a wedding but rather a Bar Mitzvah, the first one that they had ever experienced and that they still did not understand everything about the ceremony.

I explained to them that a Bar Mitzvah is a coming of age religious ceremony that takes place when a boy reaches 13 years of age. At that time, he goes to a synagogue and affirms that he will honor a commitment to observe the Commandments spelled out in the Old Testament and related writings.  Girls go through the same sort of celebration and it is called a Bat Mitzvah. The terms are loosely translated as son or daughter of the commandment. The ceremony is followed by a festive reception with good food being served accompanied by good music being played.

Who do you think were the joyful and proud parents of the happy Bar Mitzvah boy? Yes, it was my client and his wife, the "Arabs." Following the war that Egypt and other nearby Arab countries waged unsuccessfully against the State of Israel when it was founded, Jewish citizens of those Arab countries were forced to leave their birth places where they and their ancestors had lived for hundreds of years. It is estimated that more than 800,000 people had to leave and were not permitted to take much with them. My client and his wife, both Egyptians, were part of this exodus.

I have never seen the husband or his wife since our day in court. But the entire experience of dealing with them has led to changing my outlook and behavior for the better. My jaw does not drop nor do I feel that I will sink into the floor when I now encounter this kind of experience. I have learned to be an observer, calmly look at each such incident, and, with my personal views under control, proceed to the next step.

Not too long after this episode with my clients, I had a great opportunity to test whether I had really learned from the experience. I was at the Rome airport waiting at the international terminal to catch my flight back to the United States. I noticed a grandmotherly looking Arab woman, dressed in native clothing and wearing a head scarf. She was walking around, flight ticket in hand, and showing signs of confusion. I guessed that she did not read or speak Italian or English and, of course, I did not speak Arabic.

I walked over to the lady and gestured that I wanted to see her flight ticket. She handed it to me and I quickly saw that both of us were on the same flight. I gestured to her to sit down and wait and that I would take her to the boarding area when the flight was ready for us. In due time, I escorted her to the boarding area where we boarded the airplane together. Then I personally led her to her assigned seat. She smiled and gave a silent nod of thanks.

I cheerfully walked down the aisle to my seat and sat down feeling that doing my homework had paid off. I was also optimistic that I could cope successfully with any other of my demons that dared to show themselves.