I am lucky to be a Jewish lawyer in 2010.
When I leave early on Friday for Shabbat dinner no one bats an eye. When I ask to spend the Jewish high holydays at shul instead of at my desk, I get emails of “enjoy the holiday” instead of snubs in the hallway.
But Jews weren’t always welcome in the practice of law. Even in our progressive, hip Twin Cities, it used to be that clients would say, “sorry, but we won’t work with a Jewish lawyer.” Many law firms said that too.
Do you know about those Jewish lawyer experiences? Have you heard them told? Or do you shy away from those stories, scared of what you’ll hear?
This Thursday evening, May 27th, the Twin Cities Cardozo Society, a joint project of the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Jewish Federations, is hosting an event called “Personal Perspectives of the Twin Cities Jewish Lawyer Experience in the Last Half Century.”
The event will be presented by the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest, an organization that has conducted more than a dozen oral interviews with lawyers in the upper Midwest, most of whom entered practice after World War II. The interviewees were a diverse group that included successful practitioners in large and small firms and a variety of practice areas, judges and social justice crusaders. The interviews focused on the subjects’ family background, education, career and community involvement as they related to their Jewish identities.
The Jewish lawyers sharing their stories on Thursday’s panel include Judge Roberta Levy (b. 1937), Mel Orenstein (b.1926), Morris (Moe) Sherman (b.1935), Ken Tilsen (b.1927) and Arthur Weisberg (b.1926). JHSUM volunteer and attorney Helen Rubenstein will be moderating the panel.
Thursday’s event will be “their chance to tell their stories,” said Maslon Law Firm attorney and member of the Cardozo Society Steering Committee Haley Schaffer. “We tried to select people on the panel with different experiences so we can understand the different kinds of barriers that existed for Jewish lawyers and to see how far we’ve come.”
Thursday’s Cardozo Society event (Click here for the event invitation) will be held at the Fredrikson & Byron Law Firm (200 S. 6th Street, Suite 4000, Minneapolis). Reception with hors d’oeuvres at 5:15pm; Program and Discussion from 6:00 – 7:45 pm. Dietary laws followed. Space limited (and the event is sure to be popular). Please RSVP to Terri Miranda at [email protected].
If you can’t make it to the event, all interviews have been transcribed and are a permanent part of the JHSUM archives. If you aren’t already a member of the Cardozo Society (a great opportunity to network with Minnesota’s Jewish lawyers and attend Jewish legal programming throughout the year), email Terri Miranda at [email protected].
But since no one in “our” generation will be on the panel, I want to pose a question to you, and encourage you to think about it as you attend (hopefully) the event on Thursday.
What does it mean to be a Jewish lawyer today? And would you consider yourself a Jewish lawyer? Or a Lawyer who happens to be Jewish?
Add your thoughts in the comments below.
I’ve heard that the law firm that is today the prominent Robbins Kaplan started as a Jewish law firm, because other law firms would not hire Jews. I was one of several such firms.
Am I a Jewish lawyer, or one who happens to be Jewish? Tough one… As central as being a Jew is to my identity, I am hard pressed to come up with ways in which my lawyering is in any sense particularly Jewish. When I draft a halachically-compliant will for an observant Jewish client, yes, but otherwise I can’t say so.
Space is filling quickly for this event on Thursday, May 27. If you haven’t already reserved your place, RSVP online today at http://www.jewishminneapolis.org (click on May 27 on the Community Calendar).
Thank you to Fredrikson & Byron, P.A. for sponsoring this event!
“And would you consider yourself a Jewish lawyer? Or a Lawyer who happens to be Jewish?”
I long ago answered this question when it came to nationality. Am I an American Jew or a Jewish American. In this case, the noun holds more power than the adjective, so I see myself as an American Jew. Others?
Mr. Wall, my answer to the question you asked is the same as yours. But I took Leora’s question to be more specific and possibly distinct.
I was thinking along the following lines. Thurgood Marshall, an architect of the NAACP’s campaign for civil rights for African-Americans, might have though of himself as an African-American lawyer. A young African-American lawyer working today at a major firm on, let’s say, mergers and acquisitions (to pick a topic far removed from ethnic politics), might see herself as a lawyer who happens to be African-American.
Along similar lines, Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, might consider himself a Jewish lawyer. I, by comparison, would have little choice but to say that I am a lawyer who happens to be Jewish.
What about others? (I know there must be more than two Jewish lawyers reading this 🙂 )
You should read “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell. In it he discusses how (one of?) the first major Jewish law firm got started (Joe Flom at Skadden Arps).
I HAVE read that book. Phenomenal on multiple levels, and that was a great story.
Not being a lawyer, I am not familar with the ethics of the law. However, I imagine that just because something is legal or illegal, does not neccesarily make it ethical or unethical. Therefore, I wonder does one’s own ethics come into play when practicing law and, if so, does one’s Jewish identity have a role in forming those ethics? Do attorneys accept or decline cases based on the ethics of a case as opposed to the merits of a case?
I am not just a lawyer who happens to be a Jew. I am a Jewish lawyer, and my religion influences my work. Law is a tool for tikkun olam, the repair of the world. The best parts of our practice include ethics as well as tactics and are ever mindful of the injunction in Deuteronomy, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”
Only Jewish lawyers for me!!!!