Elie is deeply concerned about the media’s willingness to cave to every request of a public relations firm, mostly because some people never get to hire one. And the gang talks about other legal stuff o’ the week.
Special thanks to our sponsor, Smith.ai.
Above the Law – Thinking like a Lawyer
They Don’t Get PR Flacks
Intro: Welcome to Thinking Like a Lawyer with your hosts Elie Mystal and Joe Patrice, talking about legal news and pop culture, all while thinking like a lawyer, here on Legal Talk Network.
Joe Patrice: Hello and welcome to another edition of Thinking like a Lawyer.
Yes. I am Joe Patrice from Above the Law, and with me, as always Elie Mystal.
Elie Mystal: I swam here today.
Joe Patrice: Did you really?
Elie Mystal: It’s very wet and cold outside.
Joe Patrice: Ah yes, yes, yes. It is — yeah it’s cold — well it’s not actually all that cold, I mean, compared to the weekend.
Elie Mystal: Well I still haven’t warmed up from the weekend. My boiler broke over the weekend —
Joe Patrice: Ooh.
Elie Mystal: And that was — that was a problem.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Elie Mystal: Pretty much only for me like we have a fireplace and so the kids and the people were able to huddle around the fireplace but the fireplace is very far away from my office, so.
Joe Patrice: Wow, and you were diligently working over the weekend?
Elie Mystal: I brought you — I had frostbites to bring you some of these takes this weekend.
Joe Patrice: Interesting. Yeah – no, I’d be very interested to see some of that output in the weekend from an editorial perspective.
So, yeah — so we are here as always, we would be remiss not to begin by thanking Smith.ai, our sponsor who is a Virtual Receptionist Service for lawyers. So thank you to Smith.ai, we will be talking a little bit more about them in a minute.
But first, Elie, you have some things to complain about.
Elie Mystal: Yeah, White people —
Joe Patrice: Well, right —
Elie Mystal: Specifically —
Joe Patrice: Okay, good, I was going to say like —
Elie Mystal: Not all — specifically —
Joe Patrice: I mean it can be all.
Elie Mystal: Sometimes it is all but this — but this week specifically is the White media in the personage of Savannah Guthrie and the ‘Today’ show. If you’re not aware they had an interview this — we are recording a couple days before we record this with Nick Sandmann who is the Covington Catholic smirking White boy teen last seen trying to block a Native American who was attempting to go to the Lincoln Memorial. I’m sure you’ve seen the video, I’m sure you’ve seen the extended video that shows like three random Black people saying like horribly mean things to the children to the kids and you may be even seen the extended, extended video which shows those same group of Covington Catholic boys taunting women, one of them saying it’s not rape if you enjoy it. So —
Joe Patrice: Yeah —
Elie Mystal: Depending on which video or which angle or which whatever you see what is indelible in the hippocampus is Nick Sandmann smirking in front of Nathan Phillips, a Native American while his buddies laughed and carried on and tomahawk chopped at this Native American.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Elie Mystal: So, of course, the White media decided that we need to hear more from Nick Sandmann like that — that was the decision that Nick Sandmann needed in his own interview to clear up some of the confusion about his actions. Sandmann we now know hired a PR firm to do some crash course media training before his interview and Savannah Guthrie gave him the most softball interview possible. I was shocked that a grown-ass professional reporter was so flummoxed by a teenager’s crash course PR strategy. They let him up here on their program without wearing his racist hat, which I thought was unfortunate, and presented him just like a normal kid who — and I’m quoting him here “had every right to stand there”.
So, here’s where we talk about why we need more cultural competency in the media, not just more diversity in the media but just more cultural competency from even the White people who are in the media, right? Because if you are an African-American, pretty much any mine, or any White person who has been goddamn paying attention. When the 17-year-old kid says I have every right to stand there, when the 17-year-old kid makes the George Zimmerman defense for why he was allowed to deny access to a person of color, that’s the point where you, the interviewer, need to start pushing back.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Elie Mystal: That is the point where you need to say something and point out that this smirking idiot is now using the exact same language to justify his actions that other people have used to destroy Black youths his age and none of that was in the ‘Today’ show interview, none of that was coming from Savannah Guthrie. All we got is Nick Sandmann’s side of the story.
If you’ve read me over the past week you will know I am cut up about that because as a father of two Black boys I get to know that my kids’ side of the story is not going to make it to the ‘Today’ show, the rush to judgment from my kids happens in five seconds when the cop shows up. We don’t get — so that my kids aren’t going to get to the Guthrie interview and I just think that that’s all a terribly unfortunate example of where we are with the media in this country to say nothing of the racist MAGA crap that started all.
Joe Patrice: Well, before we get any further on that to read more about Elie’s thoughts on this, I believe you have a post in the nation that deals with this?
Elie Mystal: Yeah, I didn’t op-ed in the nation.
Joe Patrice: There we go, so check that out for a more extended take on this. Yeah, Savannah who is absolutely an Above the Law reader, so we will credit her there but this was a major, major screw-up I believe journalistically to offer any kind of platform for this sort of thing because ultimately it’s about being hacked like there’s an effort underway to hack the media and they found it and they said you have to talk to us as part of both sidesm and what they ended up getting was — everything that they could have possibly wanted, a puff piece that tries to excuse.
I mean, my favorite part of the whole thing was the social media reaction about, well, if you watch this video it’s okay because they were taunted first and I was like, so I mean my — maybe there are more videos, the video of that that I saw was they got yelled at by some of the lost tribes of Israel, the Black men who believe they are there from Israel, and they — I don’t know if you’ve never seen them they — it’s a few Black guys who look like they are extras from an off-brand version of Harry Potter and they talk a lot about Israel which they are — there’s some kind of religious zeal to it but mostly what they do is troll people.
But for everybody who tried to defend these folks based on that interchange, their argument is implicitly see some robe wearing Black dudes said something, so therefore it was entirely reasonable for White kids to go after Native Americans —
Elie Mystal: Right —
Joe Patrice: Like that’s — that’s the implicit argument which seems almost to be saying more than anything else could about what’s wrong here.
Elie Mystal: Once Black people piss me off, I get to do whatever I want —
Joe Patrice: Right.
Elie Mystal: — is what they are doing.
Joe Patrice: Yeah. I remember somebody I know put that up and I just watched it and went I think this is a very — said some very troubling things about what you think the lines, the connected dots here that’s going on in your head is very troubling to me. But, alas, so that’s that.
Elie Mystal: Let’s talk about something positive.
Joe Patrice: Well, we can talk about something positive, which is, what to do if you are missing calls? If you are missing calls, are you spread too thin, interruptions kill your productivity but clients demand a quick response. The US-based professional receptionist at Smith.ai help law firms screen new clients and schedule appointments by phone and website chat, plus Smith.ai. integrates with your software including Clio and LawPay. Plans start at just $60 per month, get a free trial at Smith.ai.
Elie Mystal: You need that Smith.ai because you don’t want to miss the call that could be your love connection.
Joe Patrice: Well, there you go, yeah, good, I mean, I thought I’d already won the Segway game but you couldn’t let that go.
Elie Mystal: No.
Joe Patrice: I mean, I’m like your personal David Fahrenthold sort of.
Elie Mystal: Ooh inside joke. I spiked the football with the Segway game and I want to talk about my favorite story that we wrote this week —
Joe Patrice: Oh good.
Elie Mystal: It was written on our site this week. Rarely for me it’s not something that I wrote that I like. Kathryn wrote about love and making a love connection at law school. It’s this very kind of cute story about a law professor who teaches a section where apparently people hook up, I mean, like a lot — that has produced a lot of happy relationships, and that kind of got us into a discussion about finding love at law school, did you find love that law school, Joe? Did you to find that girl sitting next to you and one else section?
Joe Patrice: I mean — I — no. I mean no, I mean oh no, like certainly, well, I mean, it depends. What do you define is one else section? Do you define the bar across the street because yes — but no — yeah — no, like of course I frequented the bar across the street, but I wouldn’t consider that anything particularly serious.
Elie Mystal: I think law school is an interesting place to find a life partner, right? So a full disclosure, I met my wife in college. So we did go to law school together, but we became friendly before law school.
I think it’s an interesting place to make a love connection, because there’s something about law school, especially 1L year. We’re only other people who are going through it really understand what you’re going through. It’s different than college, everybody’s been to college, everybody can kind of empathize with like a college junior, right? Like we kind of all have been there. I don’t think that it’s particularly important whether or not you’re a college junior at a state school or a private school or an Ivy school, there’s a commonality to that experience, that kind of goes across the nation.
The commonality of the 1L experience, while I think is common across the various law schools is very limited to like being a 1L, and having your mind kind of changed and warped and assaulted in the way that law schools do to 1Ls.
And so I feel like finding a way to find love while your entire worldview is being challenged, I think that’s a beautiful thing.
Joe Patrice: Wow, okay. I mean —
Elie Mystal: Does that not melt your hard heart?
Joe Patrice: No. I mean, no. I try — I have exactly — I’m entirely unmoved by all of this. Yes, there are weaker people who when they are facing trauma like that end up, it’s — it happens in action movies somewhere in the middle when they’re being shot at they get together, I suppose that happens.
Elie Mystal: It’s a huge part of the plot point of speed.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, I mean, right, it’s okay, but no. Yes, so incredibly traumatic experience which first year of law school is, this can happen, sure. Yeah.
Elie Mystal: I would have found it hard to date a woman while I was a 1L who did not understand my joke about how she was an attractive nuisance.
Joe Patrice: Oh my God.
Elie Mystal: Right. My lines would not have worked on a woman who is not —
Joe Patrice: I’m pretty confident they wouldn’t have worked anyway, dude.
Elie Mystal: Dude, I’m married. I have two kids, they worked, right? It works, maybe not that particular, I mean, the overall presentation works.
Joe Patrice: With somebody that you’d already known.
Elie Mystal: That you use.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Elie Mystal: You don’t think that — you never use the attractive nuisance line?
Joe Patrice: Yeah, I don’t think it was going to play well, no.
Elie Mystal: I have used that line like for real.
Joe Patrice: You have?
Elie Mystal: Yeah. To Christine, to my wife.
Joe Patrice: Oh, okay. Okay.
Elie Mystal: It worked. I mean, she didn’t leave.
Joe Patrice: Right, okay. So we are defining worked by she has not in fact left, which I think basically is true of any law joke other than I’ve got you by adverse possession, which probably would.
Elie Mystal: That’s more of a Kavanaugh law joke.
Joe Patrice: Ooh. See that’s interesting. You took it that way that which, which fair enough. I was taking up more the — you met her in college and you’re now old, so now she’s kind of stuck. I was taking it that direction, you took it a whole different way, and I fully agree you probably are right, I cheerfully withdraw.
Elie Mystal: We should stop talking about this until Catherine or any woman can come on the show.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, but no. So, yeah, so you enjoyed that story?
Elie Mystal: That was my favorite story of the week. What was your favorite story, Joe?
Joe Patrice: So my favorite story is a feel-good story on one level, but on a deeper level I think it raises some interesting questions for analysis, and so I’ll go into it, it’s a law school story.
The University of Virginia School of Law, they have a professor who has been running a multi-year survey trying to track results and satisfaction of graduates over a long period of time.
So, the class of 1990, who at this point — yeah, a very long time, almost 30 years of data. He has been following the class and first of all the response rate is almost more impressive than what the responses were. He is getting roughly 85% responses, which, let’s be honest, if a law school came at me and said, hey, please write back this little note, I would probably not do that, and I liked law school.
So they are getting a huge response rate and ultimately what that responses show is that they’re getting roughly 90% or better of the people are happy.
Elie Mystal: Really?
Joe Patrice: Yeah. Very interesting. Very happy with their careers.
Elie Mystal: How far our pop collar is really going to take you?
Joe Patrice: Yeah, I mean it shows that you can go a long way with a pop collar and actually I’m going to get to that in a minute. But on the one hand, good for Virginia whatever kind of culture they’re growing there, it seems to make people relatively happy.
The fact that it’s a public school and therefore for in-state folks is a little lower price, so that could be helpful too. But the first bit of analysis and I go into this in the article that I think demands to be thought through is, what’s alighted in the discussion is that when they went to school in 1990, do you have any guess how expensive law school would have been in 1990?
Elie Mystal: Adjusted for inflation or adjusted for —
Joe Patrice: Either. I’ll take either.
Elie Mystal: 2019 dollars. In 2019 dollars I’ll say 15,000.
Joe Patrice: Yeah. No, so I mean, potentially but you’re in a sort of ballpark, but I will say that the ABA says the public schools, the average public school not to say the UVA’s average, but the average public school in 1990 was charging $3,200 a year for tuition, which was rounded up by inflation to $6,000 or so, which is ridiculous, right?
Elie Mystal: Christ.
Joe Patrice: We have people paying wait $30,000, $40,000, up to $60,000 for law school these days. UVA was more expensive than that average, but still you’re right, they were paying somewhere in the neighborhood of $11,000 to $12,000 at the time. So maybe it is roughly around, and it’s probably around —
Elie Mystal: And lower than — just a little bit, but that’s —
Joe Patrice: Yeah. And that’s what I think needs to be set, is that there was a — not to say that UVA isn’t making people happy, but part of being happy with your career 30 years out from 1990 is that you were never robbed of the ability to pursue other opportunities early in your career to move your career where you wanted to go, because you didn’t have debt hanging over you that limited where you’re going. We all applaud the salary increases that these big law firms are giving, but relative to the amount of debt people are piling up, those increases aren’t keeping pace. And you come out and you are locked in for longer than these folks were to those jobs.
Elie Mystal: Yeah, one of the things I’d like to say is that and people don’t understand this. Law school used to be about the costs of buying a car.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Elie Mystal: Right, right, like a really nice car that if you wrecked it or if it got totaled or if it just stopped, if it was a Jaguar and just wouldn’t start one day, like you’d be out some money. You’d feel some pain if that bet didn’t pay off, but it was the pain of my car got wrecked.
Now, law school is like buying a house, and if you think about the economic hit to your life, if the house you bought is a layman, if you end up not being able to afford your mortgage, if you end up underwater on your loans to pay back your house, it’s a completely different level of stress and just completely limits your financial abilities in a way that a bad car never could.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, it’s like, yeah, and that’s — that’s something that I just think people need to think through and the profession as a whole needs to think through. If we really believe that law school has to be more expensive than it was back in the day, which I’m not sure we should believe, but if we really believe that we need to start thinking through what that does to the profession as a whole and what we can do to make people be happier. And alternatively we need to have a serious look at maybe law school shouldn’t be as expensive as it is.
Elie Mystal: You can so see future Deans of admissions using this study to say like, oh, look how happy you’ll be if you go to law school —
Joe Patrice: Right.
Elie Mystal: — without doing the inflation adjustment, without explaining to students what kind of crushing levels of debt they’re taking on now, that they weren’t taking on 30 years ago.
Joe Patrice: Right, but above and beyond inflation. Inflation we’ve outpaced by orders of magnitude. Yeah, exactly, I definitely see this as being fuel for marketing in ways that are troubling me.
Elie Mystal: What’s the second dark underside of the study?
Joe Patrice: The second one, I didn’t really get into this in the article, but I wanted to raise it here is UVA how do we put this politely.
Elie Mystal: All their students were White?
Joe Patrice: More or less, yeah. UVA has a not great history when it comes to diversity. They don’t have an editor-in-chief of color of their view ever as far as I know, which is unique among the top schools. The picture of the class of 1990 that accompanies the story has I believe two people of color in it, judging from a distance.
And there is something to be said for the way in which structural racism works. You’re probably getting better opportunities especially back in the early 90s if you were a White kid from the South going into a legal job. At which point, yeah, it doesn’t shock me that those folks are more satisfied.
Elie Mystal: Yeah, I know I — look, it’s a fair point. I wouldn’t — this is going to be weird for me.
I wouldn’t make too much of it because UVA historically lacked diversity. We’re not going to be able to have those good statistics showing happiness Delta between White graduates of UVA 30 years ago and Black graduates of UVA 30 years ago because there were no Black graduates of UVA 30 years ago, except for like one or two people, right?
So we can’t know for sure that their happiness quotient would be negatively effective in this study we can assume that it might be, but what we really don’t know is how current diversity initiatives are going to play out over the next 30 years right, because even as law schools try to become more diverse the question is, is the legal profession becoming more diverse, are there more opportunities for mentorship and advancement for lawyers of color, minority lawyers and women lawyers than there were 30 years ago and how that’s going to ultimately affect people’s long, long term career happiness.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, yeah, no, I think that’s very true and like again, I don’t want to necessarily — like you say, I don’t want to necessarily say that that’s a bad thing but even if it’s not negatively affecting, there’s something to be said for just the positive affecting is more likely.
I mean what you talk about you in the not 90s, but you are old, you going to a law firm that is unnamed but and being mistaken as somebody who was working in the mailroom, right, on an interview, that sort of thing is the sort of thing that might lead somebody who graduated in the 90s to not be as happy with law, and that’s a thing that White folks don’t deal with.
And so generally speaking, I think it’s — you’d find independent of what school or whatever not even discussing the negative feelings that people of color might have but that White people don’t have nearly as many opportunities to be angry at their job as befall people of any applicants of color.
And so that’s why I think you’re always going to find aside from everything else, a slight push towards more positive results over time when you’re dealing with a response group, that is mostly White in this particular profession over those particular years.
Elie Mystal: Right. And again my question is, is anybody in the legal profession going to do anything about that, right, because it’s — because it’s the — we talk about the pipeline problems sometimes about firms who want diversity but kind of cannot claim they cannot find diverse candidates.
Big part of that pipeline problem is the retention problem. They get the diverse candidates in the door, they can’t keep them in the door.
Joe Patrice: Right.
Elie Mystal: And there are various reasons for that, none of which are that minorities are dumber, right?
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Elie Mystal: There are a lot of reasons for why minorities do not, even if they survive, do not thrive in these environments and law firms still haven’t figured out the answer to retaining the diverse candidates they get from a now committed to diversity UVA.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, so it obviously isn’t the — necessarily the lead to this story but it’s something that I think everyone should consider whenever they see these sorts of stories is like look at it from all these angles because they’re all kind of there and deserve to be given some attention.
Elie Mystal: But again, if you’re rich and White and your father can afford law school for you, you guys probably get pretty good school.
Joe Patrice: Well right, yeah, yeah well I mean if you can afford it, you don’t even need to go to a public school like UVA you could — you could go visit the good people up in Harvard where you know —
Elie Mystal: Back to my David Fahrenthold problem.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, all of those, yeah.
Elie Mystal: All right, guys I think that’s it for us. Can we have one more technical difficulty before we leave?
Joe Patrice: I mean, the listeners have no idea that we had technical difficulties.
Elie Mystal: Right.
Joe Patrice: Seamlessly we have managed to make it seem like nothing happened there.
Elie Mystal: Yes, yes.
Joe Patrice: But who my dear listeners there were some technical difficulties here but we got through it like champs with the help of our folks at Legal Talk Network, which brings us to our sign-off. Let’s begin this time with thanking the Legal Talk Network, you should listen to all their shows, give them reviews and ratings, just like you should give reviews and ratings of our show.
You should be reading Above the Law, following us on Twitter, he’s @ElieNYC, I am @JosephPatrice. You should be listening to the Jabot, which is our colleague Kathryn who we mentioned on this show, her podcast. You should be — what else can you be doing?
Reading the Nation, read that Nation Post.
Elie Mystal: You got to read, you got to follow us on social media and you got to like the podcast. If you’re doing those three things we love you.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, I mean oh — and I’m not putting aside the possibility that we love you alternatively. I mean, you seem like from this podcast, you seem like super into lovey sorts of things. I don’t really care. But —
Elie Mystal: But if you’re doing those three things, we love you and if you liked my attractive nuisance joke, I love you.
Joe Patrice: Right, okay, there you go. So let him know if you like that attractive nuisance joke, and finally and most importantly, thanks to Smith.ai for sponsoring us and with that we will sign off for now. We’ll talk again in the future.
Elie Mystal: Peace.
The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
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