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Lawyers Club of San Diego is a specialty bar association committed to advancing the status of women in the law and society. We use this space to share articles written about Lawyers Club events and programs and items of interest to our members which are relevant to our mission. The opinions outlined in content published on the Lawyers Club of San Diego blog are those of the authors and not of Lawyers Club. All members are encouraged to participate respectfully in discussions regarding the topics posted on the blog. Guest writers are welcome. Guidelines for writers may be found on the Leadership Resources page.

 

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Life Imitates Law: Are There Things People Won’t Let Happen?

Posted By Bobbi-Jo Dobush, Monday, August 28, 2017
Life Imitates Law: Are There Things People Won’t Let Happen?

After the recent domestic terrorism and displays of white nationalism in Charlottesville and after a robust public discussion about the appropriateness of the resulting political response, I've been re-reading a book I’ve thought about often in recent months. With jarring accuracy, Nathan Hill’s The Nix, (aside from being one of the best books of 2016), covers a huge range of topics, including political response to violence. Although much of the book is set in the late 1960's, there are many ways that The Nix is – to my dismay – relevant in the 21st century.

Hill fictionalizes the 1968 Chicago riots and, at one point, Hill’s character of Walter Cronkite calls the police, “a bunch of thugs” for “beating kids senseless” and “taking off their badges and name tags and lowering their visors . . . to become faceless and unaccountable.” Hill’s Cronkite is made to recant by the forces-that-be because politicians, (including the Chicago mayor), want to justify the violence as a necessary response to a perceived threat. In the book, there are also TV viewers around the country who feel “jazzed up” and “edgy” watching this violence from the safety of their comfortable living rooms, and who feel like protesters “had it coming.”

While obviously not a perfect analogy to recent events, the normalization of hate-fueled violence perpetuated by people whose lives and bodies – and rights to do as they please with those lives and those bodies – are not, and have never been, up for debate or legal scrutiny, feels like a mistake we should have learned from and left in the past.

But I’m leaving something important out: Despite heavy subject matter, The Nix is actually a very funny book that may make you laugh out loud. Hill credits his, “own thinking about how contemporary America is, in some ways, totally absurd,” for the book’s humorous overtone. I, like Hill, am a believer in laughter as coping mechanism, and at times even a solution. But over the last year I’ve been feeling the absurd slip toward the terrifying.

Hearing my mounting dismay, my dad told me last year, “It’s going to be okay – there are things that people won’t let happen.” I didn’t feel immediately comforted because the things I feared were already happening, and continue to happen. However, if people resist the pull of apathy and refuse to bury their moral compasses, if they prioritize equality and access to justice and resources, then – even now – there may still be terrible things that won’t happen because people won’t let them. That is, as long as we remember that each of us is one of those “people” and we must use all available tools (literature, law, humor, empathy) to protect each other, the things we love, and the most vulnerable among us.

Bobbi-Jo Dobush believes that sharing our diverse passions for example the arts, the ocean, or salsa (the condiment) can positively influence our practices. 


Tags:  Art  domestic terrorism  Literature  Nathan Hill  riots  The Nix  violence  white nationalism 

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Life Imitates Law: Feisty Boys, Hysterical Dudes

Posted By Bobbi-Jo Dobush, Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Feisty Boys, Hysterical Dudes

 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the words used to describe migrants – words that evoke a sense of fear, of disaster – stay with us as we learn about issues of migration and color our perception thereof. The post sparked some conversation and questions about the words typically used to describe women, including professional women, and how language choice affects each of our lives (including our careers). I’ve been doing some digging on this and I want to share these resources, which range from scholarly to smile-inducing:

 

Adult Female Humans = Women.

  • To paraphrase actress Mayim Bialik’s video, one can normally recognize a girl by the fact that she is under 18 and may live with her parents. Being CEO of a company or a mother is a decent indicator that the person in question is, in fact, a woman, not a girl. In line with my previous post, Bialik gets that “language sets expectations.” This is a fun watch. 
  • Gina M. Florio’s 2016 Bustle Article posits that calling women “girls” is infantilizing, creepy, and perpetuates an obsession with female youth. On top of that, we rarely call men “boys” and calling women “girls” prevent us from treating each other as equals. 

Feisty Boys, Hysterical Dudes. 

Gendered Language Bias in the Workplace.

  • In a study analyzing the language of hundreds of performance reviews from professional and technology services companies women were 2.5 times as likely to be called out for aggressive communication styles as men and twice as likely praised for their teamwork or collaboration than men.
  • This problem is not confined to the law: a 2016 Nature Geoscience article found that women are about half as likely as their male counterparts to be described as excellent in recommendation letters, whether the letters are written by women or men. 

Additional Resources:

Please comment and let your fellow Lawyers Club members and me know what you think: Are we perpetuating sexism by refusing to recognize it in its daily forms? Have you ever called anyone groomzilla? (I have, for the record.)   

 

Bobbi-Jo Dobush believes that sharing our diverse passions—for example the arts, the ocean, or salsa (the condiment)—can positively influence our practices. 

Tags:  art  awareness  bias  discrimination  equality  girl  language  LCB 

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Life Imitates Law: Words Can Convey or Destroy Dignity

Posted By Bobbi-Jo Dobush, Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Life Imitates Law: Words Can Convey or Destroy Dignity

 

Bombastic litigators, craftsman brief writers, and shrewd contract drafters all stake their clients’ best interests on choosing the right words in the search for just outcomes. So, as much or more than to anyone else, lawyers should care how we refer to other humans, especially those most vulnerable.

 

Flood, wave, swarm – these words evoke a sense of fear, of disaster. Reading headlines with such words, I struggle to remember if should get under the desk or into a door-jam.  But these aren’t headlines about tsunamis, earthquakes, or hurricanes. Instead, a quick news search of articles in recent months comes up with titles like “Flood of Illegal Immigrants Continues at Texas Border,” “Illegals Pour Across Border Before Trump's Inauguration,” and “Illegals Swarm in.” After reading those, who wouldn’t be scared of migrants?

 

Helen Zaltzman, that’s who. Zaltzman fearlessly confronts language on a bi-weekly basis in her word-nerd podcast The Allusionist, Small Adventures in Language. (Catch me on my morning commute soaking in some etymology.) Allusionist Episode 53, The Away Team, is all about how terms used to describe migrants have become increasingly negative over time. The episode focuses on Britain, but is equally applicable to our side of the Atlantic. 

 

Zaltman and I are both offended by the misuse of words in the migration context. Many of us refer to fellow humans by category (refugee, asylee, unaccompanied minor). Propaganda and migration specialist Emma Briant opined that doing so gives “preference [for] how officials are sorting [people] over their very basic humanity.” To make matters worse, terms that were once neutral have become negative. Since when do “refugees” or “asylum seekers” (people who are, by definition, escaping persecution) invoke skepticism and not sympathy? Also—and this should really trouble us as lawyers—the term illegal gets tossed about lightly in this context. Most migrants have broken no laws, and even those who have are not “illegal” because, to quote Briant again, “people cannot be illegal.” 

 

Zaltzman, interviewing novelist and editor Nikesh Shukla, further highlights how often migration status is used as a proxy for race. All over the English-speaking world, wealthy or middle class whites who have chosen to live abroad are “expats” not “immigrants.” We never talk about a “swarm” of wealthy white people (well, maybe talking about Coachella, but that’s a conversation for another time.)

 

The Away Team ends with a reminder that most words in the English language are themselves immigrants (French, Latin, Germanic, Greek, and Scandinavian). Zaltzman warns that without such immigrant words, “you lose at least 60% of modern English plus most scientific and technological vocabulary.”   

Many Allusionist episodes are about fun stuff like sex (Episodes 50-51, Under the Covers) or manners on either side of the Atlantic (Episode 33, Please); however, there are other great listens with a focus on equality like Episode 12, Pride, or Episode 52, Sanctuary.

Bobbi-Jo Dobush believes that sharing our diverse passions—for example the arts, the ocean, or salsa (the condiment)—can positively influence our practices. 

 

Tags:  art  awareness  bias  discrimination  equality  immigration  language  LCB  podcasts  word choice 

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Life Imitates Law: "Lessons from 'Miss You Like Hell'”

Posted By Bobbi-Jo Dobush , Thursday, December 1, 2016
Updated: Thursday, December 1, 2016

Life Imitates Law: "Lessons from 'Miss You Like Hell'"

 

Stepping out into the newly crisp fall air, I declared, "I’ve found my new favorite thing." I issued this proclamation in response to my husband asking how I liked the play, “Miss You Like Hell,” which we had just seen. He laughed at my response, clarifying, "You mean your new favorite play, or favorite musical?" "No," I responded, "Favorite thing . . . as in, in general." The characters, music, set design—they are all transcendent.

 

But this is not a theater review. Instead, I was inspired by one scene where an attorney asks her client to make a request of a family member. You should definitely go see “Miss You Like Hell,” so I'll only say that the client agonizes over the idea of asking a loved one to vouch for her in the context of a legal proceeding. The scene got me thinking about the things attorneys ask of our clients, especially when the matter is deeply personal, and more importantly, how we ask for those things. (Full disclosure: I am an environmental attorney, but I encounter such situations in my pro bono immigration practice).

 

We may not realize when certain “asks” that seem routine implicate complicated interpersonal relationships. It is easy to be empathetic when asking a client to deliver on bureaucratically or logistically complicated requests, such as obtaining original documents from a country of origin a client has not set foot in for a decade, or certification from an agency that will require standing in line for half a workday. In making such requests, I have been prepared to provide support, talk through challenges and potential solutions, and research or brainstorm alternatives if necessary.

 

“Miss You Like Hell” made me realize I have been less readily empathetic in asking clients to make personal requests, whether for assistance in obtaining documents, writing letters, or testifying. I've always been sensitive to potentially difficult or uncomfortable aspects of each client's particular situation. For instance, it's obvious that the last way a survivor of violence wants to obtain original documents is by contacting her or his abuser. Beyond that, I'd do well to remember that no matter how intimately I, in the role of attorney, have come to know one aspect of a client's situation, it is but a tiny sliver of that person's complex personal life.

 

Instead of asking clients to make personal requests as an afterthought or part of a checklist, I will now be asking clients, "Who could potentially provide a letter of reference?” and, “Is there any reason asking that person would be complicated for you?" I will also be prepared to do some brainstorming if alternative sources are needed. Our clients, like everyone else we know, have rich and varied personal relationships independent of their legal issues and the potential solutions that we, as attorneys, can provide for them. My personal goal is to be more respectful of those relationships.

 

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“Miss You Like Hell" is playing through December 4th at the La Jolla Playhouse. 

 

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This blog posted was authored by Bobbi-Jo Dobush who believes that sharing our diverse passions—for example the arts, the ocean, or salsa (the condiment)—can positively influence our practices. 

Tags:  Art  client  Client Service  LCB  Life Imitates Law  Local Happenings  Theater 

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