Alex Pareene, writing for The New Republic, has published a rare takedown in a national publication of a specific large law firm partner. The subject of the article’s criticism is Neal Katyal, who served as Acting Solicitor General under the Obama administration. On December 1, Kaytal, now a partner at Hogan Lovells, appeared in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Cargill and Nestle. Kaytal argued that the Alien Tort Act should be interpreted to shield his clients from being sued for allegedly aiding and abetting child slavery. The plaintiffs in the case, according to the SCOTUSblog summary, are “six former child slaves in Ivory Coast who contend that the defendants… facilitated human-rights abuses on the cocoa plantations where the youths worked.” SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe implicitly endorses Kaytal’s performance and predicts that the Court will narrowly rule in favor of his clients.
So what’s the problem? For Pareene, Kaytal acted unethically, and his private pursuit of paying clients is part of a larger pattern of “defending and expanding corporate power.” Thus, Pareene concludes that, “[i]f you want to make a fairer society or more equitable economy, Katyal is not your ally, no matter how many good deeds he has done.”
More broadly, Pareene argues, Kaytal is an example of a larger “moral rot” impacting BigLaw. Pareene cites Richard Kahlenberg’s book, Broken Contract: A Memoir of Harvard Law School, to explain how the legal services industry turns “would-be idealists” into corporate lawyers. Too often, lawyers assume that landing a job with an Am Law 200 firm is the ultimate manifestation of success in the field.
For those who are re-examining your legal careers and potentially exploring alternatives in or outside the practice of law, you don’t have to agree with his criticisms to find value in Pareene’s article. His piece is a helpful reminder that one should not act reflexively when deciding how to define career success. Nor should one shy away from a particular path for fear that they will be criticized. The days in which lawyers could operate largely hidden from view are long gone. Since well before the advent of social media, any job involving some level of authority has invited some level of public criticism. You can’t make important decisions without upsetting someone.
Moreover, the criticism that most lawyers face when considering a career change typically comes close to home. It’s from family, friends, and most importantly, the committee that takes up too much space between our ears.
As this tumultuous year draws to a close, give yourself permission to explore what you want in a career and what matters most to you. And do so confident in the knowledge that, if you need to face some criticism, you will be able to handle it.
We are here to help in that most rewarding endeavor and wish you and the people in your life happy holidays and a healthy, joyful, and prosperous New Year.