GPSolo Magazine - January/February 2004

FROM THE EDITOR
Little Ghettos of Our Kind

When we think diversity, the tendency is to first consider race. And beyond that, certain ethnic backgrounds. But the issue is a whole lot broader—it can mean physical appearance, social class, beliefs beyond the mainstream, lifestyle preferences, and even a passion for polka.

Diversity means much, much more than the categories spelled out by some census-taking bureaucrat or even precision marketing firms such as Claritas, who neatly categorize the American population into some 62 psycho-demographic clusters. Diversity is the face of anyone who doesn’t look, think, or act like you and me.

Never before has the tapestry of American lawyers and their clients been as varied as it is today. Nor has it been quite as confusing.

Even lawyers’ practice areas can turn into little ghettos, serving distinct clienteles identified by practice area or by the client’s background. Our approach toward estate planning clients is different from the way we treat divorce clients. We may treat a George F. Babbitt somewhat differently from the way we approach other denizens of Gopher Prairie—even when both have been charged with the same crime. The culture of a personal injury practice can be distinguished from a bankruptcy practice.

Your grandfather might easily have practiced an entire legal career without venturing beyond a comfort zone of his own kind, perhaps representing only native Iowans who never left their county of origin, but today’s clients will be drawn from a much broader range of styles and cultures. A lawyer who never ventures beyond an ever-narrowing cul-de-sac of identical clients will find practice avenues reaching a dead end. Broader practice horizons demand a willingness to reach out and comprehend the differences in clients’ backgrounds and subcultures, learning and making accommodations along the way.

Sometimes the reach means becoming culturally sensitive, and sometimes it means making physical accommodations. That second-story office above the town bank, accessible only by a treacherous flight of stairs, might have served a lawyer in times past, but it no longer works for a lawyer whose practice includes people in wheelchairs. Monolingualism is as dated a concept as carbon paper.

Representing the pariahs of our society and unpopular causes is part of a lawyer’s professional duty, but many fear the impact upon their practice. For every Michael Jackson whose defense team is fueled by the famed and glamorous, there are a thousandfold of plain, simple, and ordinary clients and causes whose lawyers’ efforts go untrumpeted.

The lawyers who will read this issue of GPSolo are as diverse a lot as one may find anywhere—military lawyers and main street lawyers, tobacco-chewing lawyers who drive pickup trucks with gun racks and corporate kinds shod in Gucci loafers, Moravians and Melungeons, mountaineering lawyers and lawyers who polka, lawyers of Czech descent and lawyers with checkered pasts, lawyers practicing in the Northern Mariana Islands and those in New York City, and lawyers who vacation in Nepal and those who love Branson, Missouri. These lawyers mirror the vast prairie of American society.

Chicago lawyer James Schwartz worked long and hard as issue editor, bringing together a diverse slate of experts, and to him goes the credit for a trailblazing issue.

GPSolo’s editorial board is hard at work planning future issues, and we always welcome readers’ input. Write us and tell us what you’d like to read in upcoming issues.

Jennifer J. Rose, editor-in-chief of GPSolo, is a lawyer and writer living in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico. She can be reached at jenniferrose@abanet.org.

 

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