Pitt Law Academy: Being ‘the Other' in Law Practice: What's It Like Being Different From So Many Other Lawyers and Judges & How Should You Handle It?

Date and Times: 
Thursday, February 23, 2017 - 3:30pm

University of Pittsburgh School of Law
3900 Forbes Avenue Room 109
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

Next Thursday, Feb. 23 at 3:30 in Room 109 (same classroom as the last program; NOT the Courtroom), the Law School will present our seventh Pitt Law Academy program for this year: “Being ‘the Other' in Law Practice: What's It Like Being Different From So Many Other Lawyers and Judges & How Should You Handle It?”

You may well be feeling some anxiety (whether conscious or not) about whether you will ultimately “fit in,” whether and how you can make it in a legal profession which appears to be full of lawyers who are in one or more significant ways “different” from you.  Different how?  There are just so many different ways in which you might feel yourself to be “the other,” e.g., by dint of race or gender or sexual orientation or age or ethnicity or mental or physical disability or religion or social class . . . or . . . well, the list goes on and on.

So what are the consequences of being “the other” in our Bar, to be a woman in a heavily male-dominated profession, for example, or someone who is LGBTQ or trans in a predominantly straight Bar, or simply someone who is young (like most of you are) in a much older Bar?  How should/can you deal with the ways in which actions by others in the Bar – often involving lawyers quite senior to you – impact you?

This is only the second time we’ve presented this particular program at Pitt Law School (and maybe one of the few times it’s been presented at any law school) as it is, quite obviously, a difficult, sensitive, and emotional topic.  But we think that it is an important matter to discuss openly, not just in private.  Worse still would be just ignoring the subject, pretending that it is no issue at all.  But we think it is an issue.  And that is true, we believe, not only if you feel that you are “the other,” but even if you feel that you are not, that you’re actually like most people already working in our business.  Even if you are or feel yourself to be in “the mainstream,” you will be and you should be spending your professional life with many other kinds of people in your practice, people who are different from yourself.  What does that/should that mean to you?

Our three panelists who will (bravely) address these issues are, as always in Pitt Law Academy programs, a very impressive group.  You will hear from three of our alums: an African-American woman in a heavily white, male Bar; a transgender lawyer in a overwhelmingly cis-gendered Bar; and a third panelist who is lesbian in a predominantly straight, male Bar:

  • Carey Cummings, Chief of Staff, State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Alleg. Co.)
  • Ella Eisenhour, Fiduciary Advisor, PNC
  • Sydney Normil, Associate, Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney PC

Sorry to go on at length here.  I know I’m well beyond my tweet character limit and that some of you have already moved on to sharing funny cat photos on your facebook page, but – hey – I think this topic is really important.  Anyway, our three panelists next Thursday will, I hope, offer you some useful insights about being successful in our profession no matter who you are and where you come from, and this program will be well worth the price of admission (free . . . not counting the hundred grand or so you’re paying us in tuition, but who’s quibbling?).

And, of course, there’s always the gala Reception afterwards!  We’ve got our elves (including the elfish Dean Kevin Deasy, with his cute little green elf cap on) tucked away in tree trunks in Schenley Park, hard at work baking those yummy cookies for you.  And, as you may not realize, Associate Dean Nancy Burkoff herself hand slices every last piece of that delicious, just-off-the-vine (within three-six months) fruit that we prepare for you.  Or so I’ve been told.  I can’t swear to any of this.

2Ls and 3Ls: It’s never too late to learn the truth.  Come learn some truths, and then eat a cookie with a 1L. Fun.

Professor John Burkoff