Noblese Oblige as an Alternate Career Strategy
19 Pages Posted: 7 May 2004
In this Comment to Professor Wilkins' article "Doing Well by Doing Good? The Role of Public Service in the Careers of Black Corporate Lawyers," Professor Garth cautions that the market for the kind of public service opportunities that are likely to benefit a lawyer's career in private practice may be nearly as closed as the market for law firm partnerships. As the size of the bar increases, leadership positions in public service have become increasingly scarce. Moreover, the black lawyers who were tapped for these positions in the 1980s and 1990s are likely, as their predecessors in the elite bar before them, to hold on to these prestigious positions, thus leaving little room for the expanding number of black lawyers coming behind them. At the same time, the "demand" by corporate clients for lawyers with public service credentials may be different from what most black lawyers pursuing this strategy are able to supply - and when companies do want black lawyers, it is likely to be in areas that end up limiting the ability of these aspiring lawyer-statespersons to become partners with power in elite firms. Finally, even in the best of circumstances, only certain lawyers will be able to use public service as a springboard to success in private practice. Specifically, lawyers who do not have the kind of elite credentials prized by those dispensing prestigious public service opportunities, and women, who are likely to find the extra hours associated with combining public service and private practice particularly onerous, will have much greater difficulty pursuing a nobles oblige approach to building successful careers in private practice. Nevertheless, Professor Garth concludes that public service remains an important avenue for obtaining career advantages in private practice, although paradoxically, primarily for those lawyers who pursue public opportunities for their intrinsic (as opposed to their instrumental) value.
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