Judicial news flash: Lawyers are fond of money

Categories: Business
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On the road to becoming a Bush nominee for a federal judgeship, Patrick J. Schiltz clerked for Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia and helped to defend the Catholic Church against more than 500 suits brought by victims of sexual abuse. On the face of it, that's not a CV that inspires a lot of enthusiasm, except among fans of theocracy and pederasty. Just kidding. (Schiltz has written critically about the way the media have "poisoned" the minds of jurors and judges against the church; let's just say we're paying back the favor.)


In Minnesota, Schiltz was a partner at Minneapolis's heavyweight firm Faegre and Benson, and a founding dean of the law school at the University of St. Thomas. (One wonders if he played any role in the faculty hire of Robert Delahunty, the former special counsel in the Justice Department, who collaborated with John Yoo in one the Bush administration's now-infamous torture memos.)

When he wasn't defending frocked men with feely hands, Schiltz was apparently meditating on the ethics of his profession. In 1999, he penned a widely circulated article for the Vanderbilt Law Review that cautioned young lawyers about the temptations and trespasses of contemporary corporate law. The article, it should be said, probably won't find a home in the next William Bennett reader. Schiltz comes off less like a moral scold than a keen-eyed cultural observer. In fact, his description of one legal rite-of-passage--the law-firm barbecue--could come from a Tom Wolfe set-piece:

"During his first month working at a law firm, a young associate will be invited by some senior partner to a barbecue at his home. This 'barbecue' will bear absolutely no relationship to what the associate's father used to do on a Weber grill in their driveway. The associate will drive up to the senior partner's home in his rusted Escort and park at the end of a long line of Mercedes Benzs, BMWs and sport utility vehicles. The house will be enormous. The lawn will look like a putting green, and be bordered by perfectly manicured trees and flowers. He will walk through the rooms, each of which will be decorated with expensive carpet and expensive wallpaper and expensive antiques. As he enters the partner's immaculately landscaped backyard, he will be offered pate or miniature quiche or shrimp and be given a drink of the most expensive brand of whatever liquor he likes. In the corner of the yard, a caterer will be grilling swordfish. In another corner will stand the senior partner, sipping a glass of white wine, holding court with a worshipful group of junior partners and senior associates. After a couple of hours, the associate will walk out the front door, slightly tipsy from the free liquor, and say to himself, 'This is the life.'

"In this and a thousand other ways, young lawyers absorb law firm culture--a culture of long hours of toil inside the office and short hours of conspicuous consumption outside the office. They work among lawyers who talk about money constantly and who are intensely curious about how much money other lawyers are making. Any lawyer who wants to get some sense of this should leave his tax return on the photocopier glass sometime. (At least one hapless lawyer seems to do this every spring at most firms.) Every lawyer in the firm will know how much money the lawyer made last year in about 15 minutes, and every lawyer who joins the firm during the next quarter-century will hear the story of the lawyer's tax return....

"Law firm culture also reflects the many ways in which lawyers who are winning the game broadcast their success. A first-year male associate will buy his suits off the rack at a department store. A couple of years later, he'll be at Brooks Brothers. A few years after that, a salesperson will come to his office with tape measures and fabric swatches in hand."

We can only hope the future Judge Schiltz will write something that insightful and incisive about the mores and customs of life on the bench.


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