Young v. Covington: New Lawyer, More Mud

Today’s Legal Times updates readers on developments in Young v. Covington.  The piece opens with the most recent development in the case:

Latif Doman of Doman Davis, a small litigation and employment discrimination firm with offices in New York and Washington, will take the reins on the case, which has caused a stir in D.C. legal circles.

The article quotes me as saying that it was Mr. Doman’s passion for this issue that ultimately swayed me.  This is not entirely true.  While Mr. Doman, who is black, is passionate about the issues raised in my lawsuit, he also happens to be extremely smart and accomplished.  He has nearly fifteen years of litigation and employment law experience, which has included high profile cases like his representation of Genard Parker in his suit against the singer, Ashanti.  I confess to also being impressed with his legal bona fides–University of Pennsylvania Law School (ranked 7th by US News), Law Review, Federal Clerkship (Chief Judge John Garrett Penn), and BigLaw experience–that reassure those that need reassuring.

Mr. Doman’s accomplishments lend themselves to the assumption that he is a very good attorney and deserving of the legal community’s respect.  I, on the other hand, had marginal law school grades, difficulty passing the bar and legal experience limited primarily to document review.  The question the Legal Times’ article raises is this:  Are attorneys with less sterling credentials less deserving of training and a workplace free of discrimination?

As the article points out, my claims against Covington involve the segregation of minority attorneys and the use of racial slurs in the office. Covington admits that derogatory language was used in the office and  that staff attorneys are not provided the same benefits and training as other attorneys at the firm and are not included in many firm meetings and events.  They then try to make the issue about my grades rather than their firm practices.

From LegalTimes:

In the meantime, Covington seems to be settling on a hardball strategy for dealing with the suit. Last week it released a lengthy response to her complaint, in which it portrayed her as a dilletantish, marginally qualified attorney who never understood the nature of her job.

One of Young’s more incendiary accusations against Covington is that the firm used its staff attorney program to recruit minority lawyers, then systematically denied them the chance to rise into the associate ranks. She published a controversial essay on the topic for the Huffington Post titled “Law Firm Segregation Reminiscent of Jim Crow.”

Covington’s response tries to hammer home the point that staff attorneys were generally less qualified lawyers whose only job was to handle electronic document review. It then proceeds to use Young herself as an example, using an Aug. 14 letter to the EEOC in which the firm first responded to her discrimination claims (pdf).

“Ms. Young is an African-American whose publicly-stated career interests focus on the media; she has published a book, appeared as a ‘talking head’ on TV and written commentary for newspapers and blogs,” the letter states. “Ms. Young graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 1995. Her average grade was only slightly better than a ‘C,’ well below the threshold level for a Covington associate. She did not pass the bar until 1998, three years after her law school graduation.”

What constitutes being qualified?  What’s the better indicator of the kind of lawyer I have the potential to be?  Grades or the fact that my writing has been endorsed by some of the world’s most  respected publishers:  Random House, USA Today, and The Washington Post?  Or perhaps it is the fact that I wrote a complaint that Covington was forced to answer.

OBABL has talked about the low bar passage rate for black attorneys, but we haven’t said much about law school grades.  GULC is a t-14 school that grades on the curve, so half of the class is always going to be in the bottom half.  Is it better to be in the bottom half of a t-14 school or closer to the top at a less expensive, lower ranked school?  If going to a top law school only benefits those at the top of the class, should law school promotional material alert students to this fact?

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