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In Defense of the White Male

Vivia Chen

July 30, 2018

Satisfied-Businessman-Art

 

We all know that lawyer-moms face condescension and bias in the legal profession, but must we throw hapless men under the bus to show women our support?

I’m talking about what happened to Paul Reid, a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon’s Miami office, who objected to a request by opposing counsel, who’s pregnant, for continuance in a trial.

Here’s the backstory: Reid represented an amputee, in a torts case, in which Christen Luikart served as opposing lead counsel. (Reid represents Scott Aswege, who fell 20 feet to a concrete floor from a lift; Luikart represents the lift-maker, Genie, and its parent company, Telex.) Luikart requested that the trial date be pushed back after her baby’s due date. Reid opposed the request, arguing that the delay was unfair to his client. He wrote in opposing defendant’s continuance motion: “Ms. Luikart’s parental leave is not a compelling circumstance justifying the severe prejudice plaintiff will suffer if this matter is continued.” The upshot: The judge ultimately agreed with Luikart.

I have no quarrel with the judge’s decision, but I do have problems with the heavy-handed way Shook Hardy handled Reid. Not only did it suspend him “immediately” and scrub all trace of him from its website, reports Daily Business Review, but it issued this rather sanctimonious statement:

As attorneys, we zealously advocate for our clients every day in court; but we expect our lawyers to do so in an appropriate and respectful manner. The statements made by Mr. Reid do not reflect the supportive and inclusive culture that Shook, Hardy & Bacon is committed to championing. … Mr. Reid’s comments are directly at odds with Shook’s advocacy on these issues, and our firm chair suspended Mr. Reid today upon learning of the situation, pending further review by firm management. We will use this situation as an additional opportunity to educate our lawyers and staff and foster a continued dialogue on diversity and inclusion. 

The statement suggests that Reid failed to behave “in an appropriate and respectful manner,” that he somehow crossed a line and did something reprehensible. (Shook Hardy declined to comment further on the matter.)

Based on the transcript of the continuance request and other public comments, I don’t get why he’s so despicable. OK, he did gripe that Luikart was asking for an “exceptionally long, beyond the 90 days after her baby would be born” leave. And he dug himself deeper when he seemed to analogize pregnancies to illnesses: “Cases involving illness of counsel or a party do not mandate reversal in all circumstances.”

Comparing pregnancies to illnesses and questioning the necessity of a 90-day-plus leave are not politically palatable these days, but do they make him the poster boy for bad male behavior? I don’t think so.

Yet, in what I see as a public relations maneuver, the firm did just that. In reaction to the negative press, it made a sacrificial lamb out of Reid, the proverbial white, middle-aged man.

Which is not to say that he isn’t the proverbial white, middle-aged man. He was out of touch, failing to see that it’s now bad optics to complain about delays caused by your opponent’s pregnancy. He was also clumsy about his word choices. Worse was his timing: He made his objection to the continuance just as the Florida Supreme Court is debating whether to adopt a rule that would give pregnant lawyers three-month continuances in their cases. (My hunch: This episode will give the measure a major boost.)

But he’s no Harvey Weinstein, and the punishment seems disproportionate to his crime. In fact, what was the crime? Wasn’t he pushing for speedy trial for the sake of his client? Wasn’t he essentially doing his job? I wonder if there would be this much outrage if the continuance request involved other pressing family matters, like the grave illnesses or death of a loved one. Or are we just putting motherhood on a special pedestal?

To me, suspending him (is this a prelude to firing him too?) is so excessive that I fear that it runs the danger of creating a backlash against women. It plays right into the idea that women are so angry and demanding that men have to walk on eggshells—which is the excuse some men use to avoid working with women.

And giving men that out would indeed be a damn shame.

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. On Twitter: @lawcareerist

Comments

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Yes, his comments on their face sound despicable and condescending and that is spelled out in the context of the transcripts. I doubt highly if a woman had made the same comments the fall out would have been so swift and the backlash so great. White men are not the enemy of white women and people of color, the administrations and leadership of the law firms is what continues to oppress diversity and inclusion initiatives and polices to a more equitable and fairer legal community. Vote for those that will make the system fairer and you won't have these incidents continue to happen.

Nah, you can also make poor jokes 10 years ago and get fired by Disney without any woman being involved.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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