Sunday, May 15, 2005

Wood 'n Lawyers

The Volokh Conspiracy linked to this story a couple of days ago.

Law Firms Agree to Give Clients Diversity Data on Legal Teams. This story will make you hit your forehead with a fungo bat. Please kneel. Slow, deep breaths. The New York County Lawyer's Association intones "In the Name of race, gender, ethnicity and sexual preference, Ah-women, and uh, persons of various colors, complexities, particularities, tastes, and so on and so forth. Whatever." A reading from scripture:

In a pact brokered by the New York County Lawyers' Association, more than 60 law firms have agreed to tell their corporate clients the composition of assigned legal teams by race, gender, ethnicity and sexual preference. For several years, clients have asked law firms to sign statementsin support of diversifying the legal profession. But with the formal agreement, firms have volunteered to put hard numbers behind their noble aspirations. According to the pact, "law firms should not object to requests by their corporate clients [to] report thenumber of hours devoted to the clients' matters by minority lawyers."

Supporting the effort are some 65 bar organizations, including major groups such as the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and the New York State Bar Association and small specialty bars such as the Nigerian Lawyers Association and the Lesbian, Gay,Bisexual & Transgender Law Association.

My mind stalls trying to chase all thoughts simultaneously. Do the Nigerian Lawyers specialize in spamming and anti-spamming casework? Doesn't "small specialty bars" mean nightclubs, piano bars and 1940's torch song nightspots? How finely can anyone slice the, "Only-someone -just-like-me-can-speak-for-me, represent me, understand me, me, me, me, me, me"? And what comes next, this: "Sources say the jury, composed of nine women, and three men, ten heterosexuals, one lesbian, one out-of-the-closet-now homosexual, three softball players on unisex teams, only two left handed people, but seven ambidextrous, and two piano players, but no teetotalers, plus four grandparents, only one of which has adopted a handicapped child of color, but that child's neighbor on trial here and we can't talk about that yet, is having a hell of a time reaching a decision about the accused, a transgendered former astronaut...". Whew! I'm glad I don't live in New York, although its midwestern lunacy outpost is only ten miles to my west. We. Never. Go. There. Have you noticed what is missing from the lists above? Not yet? Back to the article. There may be consequences for---Non-compliance.

"For law firms, failure to adequately diversify legal teams assigned to client matters could mean the difference between retaining business or being dropped in favor of more socially progressive
shops, according to speakers at a press conference announcing the pact this week.

Could mean. This speculative language appears everywhere: "A new study suggests that... in some cases this could mean... sometimes...but perhaps not...though on the other hand." The heavy hitters in this "story" are trying to stretch drag bunts into triples. Highlights below.

The agreement suggests that head counts on minority staffing might one day be publicized. Exactly when and how that would happen -whether corporate clients would publish a given law firm's minority counsel statistics in annual reports, for instance, or release figures to the media -remains unclear. (Smoothing Plane: Actung! Whistling in the dark alert! ) But immediate consequences are clear, said Robert L. Haig, a partnerat Kelley, Drye & Warren, one of the first large Manhattan firms to sign the agreement. (S. Plane: Clear? To whom? "Who picks up the meme and throws it to what, what throws it to I don't know, I don't know throws it to tomorrow. A triple play. " Apologies to the great Bud & Lou infield.) The bunters again:

"When that number is put on the table and it's a small number, then the great enthusiasm for diversity is a little suspect. The client might say, 'We can't hire you for the following year,'" Haig said in an interview. "Right then, that law firm is going to change. They're going to do what they have to do in order to be retained again and again." He added, "This is economically driven, and that's what makes it powerful."

Haig, a former president of County Lawyers, the nation's first bar association to admit minority attorneys, (S. Plane: Do we know this for a fact? See Newsweek squid ink post.) was one of about 30 attorneys who formed a County Lawyers task force on diversity. The effort was launched in 2000 and headed by Juanita Bing Newton, administrative judge of New York City Criminal Court and deputy chief administrative judge for Justice Initiatives at the Office of Court Administration. Over the years, Newton said, the task force decided to urge a hard-number numerical commitment.

Pray, tell us what is hard-number numerical committment? If this were a crossword clue, the phrase "a five letter word meaning-" would precede hard number numerical commitment. ( Hint, the first letter is a Q. ) However, never doubt their high moral posture:

The numbers of minority lawyers on legal teams as a means of demonstrating commitment to diversity might well become a competitive marker in standard firm surveys, they said. "And if your numbers don't add up," Mayes warned, "you're history."

Haig said including minority work numbers as a part of standard periodic reports to clients would pose no burden to law firms. "It's just another computer field," he said.

Will they hand out yellow stars and pink triangles to firms which offend, or to those who comply?

Late nights and early mornings I am a blogger. I work in a store-fixtures shop now, but recently was a full time furniture maker/wood guy. Go here to see smoothing planes. ( Mostly Norris type infills, plus a Spiers or two; and I think I see a chariot plane. You will never see these on This Old House. They are not used in The New Yankee Workshop. That is another post. Stay tuned.)

So, NY bar gender & diversity lawyers how well will the 'principles of gender and diversity' work in the measure twice, cut once world? I am highly qualified to talk about wood, are you? Can you distinguish Honduran Mahogany from Phillipine mahogany, or teak from padauk? Do you know if any of them are "dust woods", will make clouds of the stuff going through the power planer, or behave themselves just nicely, thank you very much and give nice, tiny curled shavings? Which will tear out or snipe? What will teak do to your planer knives? How can tear-out be controlled on Bird's eye maple? Would Goncalo Alves make a good cutting board wood, yes or no? If yes, why? If not, why not? Would American elm? American Sycamore? Russian olive? Which of these woods is ring porous, which diffuse porous? What is roey grain? What must be done to avoid difficulty using Sycamore; what is that difficulty; and how has Sycamore been used in the past? What used for today? There is a native American wood in the Ebony family? Which is it? What color is it? What has it been used for until very recently, and why has it passed out of use? Hint: ask a golfer. (It was not discrimination by racist woodworkers, so pull back your baying junior partners.)

If we apply some standard of diversity in selecting wood for all projects, is that a good idea? (Standard of diversity, there's a mongrel, bastard chimera.) Pick two of each species, but disregard particular inherent qualities, good idea? Shall we ignore hardness, texture, color, grain direction, suitability for particular glues, carving/cutting characteristics et. al. for the sake of inclusion? Species suitable for making one thing can be terrible for another. Pick a wood. "Pine", you say. Which pine, northern white, eastern white, or yellow? What are you making with it, blanket chest, (painted or unpainted), cutting board, mandolin, piano bench, running board, rowboat, chest of drawers?

OK. Pine makes lousy cutting boards. Why? Too soft. No impact resistance. Cuts too easily. Shreds and splinters. An no, smearing on six coats of polyurethane won't toughen it up. However it make great blanket chests, painted or unpainted. And pretty good chests of drawers but you'll need the 200 year old stuff the Colonists had access to, with its tight, close grain rings. It is harder. And you will want northern or eastern white pine. No, 2x4's are a terrible substitute; they are larch and other whitewoods, as the lumber trade calls them. What you want for that cutting board is hard maple, finished with olive or mineral oil. Maybe European beech, or some other woods whose names you won't recognize. Bird's eye maple will show up in that Mandolin, as will spruce, maybe mahogany for the neck. Plus rosewood and ebony along the fingerboard. Save that ebony family persimmon for golf club heads, mallets, and any place you want strong wear resistance. The trees are small; the wood is rather whitish-gray, with a tiny ebony black heart. Not pretty. Harder and almost as impact resistant as the Bar Association above is to logical thought. Make the piano bench from Honduran mahogany, padauk, goncalo alves, or almost any good cabinet wood. Use the teak on the rowboat; it will make a really nice rowboat. But the high silica content of teak will play hell dulling your planer knives. Don't use yellow glue on your rowboat; and wipe the oils off with denatured alcohol first to improve adhesion. Padauk and goncalo alves will tear out fiercely if you don't watch it. Keep you knives sharp and take 1/64th inch passes. Same for the bird's eye maple, but moisten it with water to stop tear out. (No, you can't just fill the eyes with putty!) American elm has interlocking (roey) grain, and is almost impossible to plane. Use your scrapers and sanders. Sycamore has such high expansion and contraction rates it must be quarter sawn to minimize this. The speckled pattern this cutting gives is called bees wing, and was used for drawer sides in older, (pre-about 1920's) furniture. Nowadays it's used for popsickle sticks as it will not hold odors, and does not splinter. That's why oak and Goncalo alves make poor cutting boards. (Well, for hard, daily use, I would avoid oak. Light stuff is fine. I'd bet Julia Child had only maple. I hate glass and plastic. Another post.)

Dear NY Bar: If you prefer quotas on "race, gender, ethnicity and sexual preference "to innate character, skill and experience,then build make your tax cases from yellow pine, (it twists and warps), build all slander and libel cases of bloodwood, (terrible allergic responsesfrom the dust), your homicide arguments from balsa, and your maritime briefs from the heavier than water desert ironwoods. Great maybe for diversity land, but terrible otherwise. It will not guarantee e-quality as nice as this cabinet of mahogany, cherry, curly maple and goncalo alves, no matter how many times you measure and cut.

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