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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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More on the Fulbright & Jaworksi N-word incident

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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I posted my reaction to the n-word incident at Duke – Fulbright & Jaworski Partner Drops N-Word in Interview; Sky Falls – having only read the early reports based on Dean Bartlett’s interview. A big thanks to Hans Bader for alerting me to the more recent developments. His comment appears in full below my first post. F&J’s executive committee issued the following response, which I find very illuminating:

Because you may hear about or be asked about a recent situation at a law school where attorneys participated in training interviews of students, we want to bring it to your attention. One of our lawyers recounted a story about Leon Jaworski’s defense of an African-American man in a murder trial in Waco, Texas in the 1920s. During the retelling, in an effort to display the depth of racial hostility that Jaworski and his client faced, the attorney used a racial term that characterized what the district attorney in the case said about the defendant. After review of the situation, all involved concluded that such terms, although recounted without ill intentions, are inappropriate for our firm, which values diversity and strives for inclusiveness. We are addressing the situation, and Steve Pfeiffer and other senior partners are en route to meet with the students. One of the other attorneys who participated in the training session acted immediately when the incident was called to his attention and responded with an electronic letter of explanation and appropriate apology. Any inquiries should be directed to the firm’s Hiring Partner, Gerry Lowry. Executive Committee

Dean Bartlett’s only explanation of what actually transpired is as follows:

A Duke student reported that a partner from Fulbright & Jaworski who was meeting students on campus told a story in which “the n word” was attributed to one of the characters in the story. Understandably, the use of the word offended the student.

“Attributed to one of the characters in the story” could take many plausible forms, many of which are particularly damaging. To me that phrase implies something along the lines of an off-color joke, certainly not giving an example of an opposing prosecutor’s actual racism. Indeed, context is everything. If those facts are right, then I find Bartlett’s description is misleading if not dishonest. Her description invites the reader to imply a much more sinister context than what seems to have actually taken place.

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