“My lawyer is some Jew downtown”

When people call me looking for Illinois legal help I encourage them to be open and honest with me.  The more open and honest they are with me, the easier it is for me to answer their questions and recommend a lawyer for their case.  Everything we talk about is confidential and their openness can help me help them.  Sometimes though they are too honest.

Recently I was called by a guy who wanted to replace his attorney because he didn’t like how the lawyer talked to him on the phone.  When I asked who the lawyer was he told me that he couldn’t remember his name and then laughed and said, “My lawyer is some Jew downtown.”

I responded by asking what was funny about that and did he think it was funny that I was a “Jew lawyer downtown” as well?  He of course became very defensive and insisted he was not racist or anything like that and wanted to continue our conversation.  Against the nature of my money hungry people, I turned down his business and ended the call.  Lawyers like anyone else can choose who they want to work with and who they don’t.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve had this type of conversation.  The most common theme I hear occurs when I ask the caller what they are looking for in an attorney and again tell them to be blunt.  Every now and then someone will respond by saying something like, “Well, if I can be honest, I’d like a really Jewish lawyer.”  When I ask what they mean by that, usually the response isn’t overly negative.  They’ll usually tell me that they hear “those types” of lawyers are really aggressive and do a good job for their clients.  So basically it’s bigoted, but they feel that they can benefit by whatever stereotype they hold of Jewish people.

It’s way different when someone tells me that they want a Spanish speaker because they speak Spanish or a black lawyer because they’d feel more comfortable with someone of their own race.  That doesn’t bother me although I have told some black callers that the unique facts of their case would be better handled by someone who I know has a more niche practice area.

I do believe that if you are hiring a lawyer you should have what you want, even if your desires are bigoted.  You are spending your money and it’s your life.  I recommend a bunch of different attorneys that have very Hispanic sounding last names.  Most callers could care less, but I’ve had more than a few make it clear that they have a stereotype of Hispanics that would make them not want to work with any of these incredibly talented attorneys.  While I feel they have a right to hire who they want, I feel I also have a right to not get involved when they make me uncomfortable.

It’s not like I have some belief that people aren’t racist.  Everyone has some sort of prejudice.  But to see it so overt, even when I encourage honesty, really takes me aback every time it happens.


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