From 1972 to 1983 the TV show “M*A*S*H” (set in an Army hospital in Korea during the Korean war) was massively popular in the U.S. One of the regular characters was Corporal Maxwell Klinger, a man who wore dresses in an attempt to get thrown out of the Army. Unfortunately for Max, his CO knew it was a sham and just ignored his antics. The show did have bit of fun with it, though, the usual jests about whether he should wear pearls with this outfit or if these earrings were too much for daytime wear.
Corporal Klinger came to mind due to some recent pronouncements by the Coca-Cola company. Their General Counsel announced that the company would require quarterly reporting of the makeup of legal teams that do work for them and self-identify as American Indian, Alaska Native, Black, Asian, women, Hispanic/Latinx, LGBTQ, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander or persons with disabilities. Going forward, at least 30% of billed hours must be from these types and at least half of that from Blacks. Plans are for these percentages to rise over time to 50%, again with at least half from Blacks. And, of course, Coke sees itself as a standard setter and hopes other large companies follow suit.
Personally, I find this type of racial scorecard keeping abhorrent and divisive but then I’m pretty damn un-woke. But that aside, a couple of things struck me about this Brave New World Coke envisions. First, are there enough Black attorneys to fill the quotas? Big law firms may find themselves desperately recruiting Black attorneys away from other occupations, like being in-house counsel to a business or working for a not-for-profit entity. Or shifting Black attorneys away from other clients to Coke. This may just result in Black attorneys getting premium pay to work for big law firms. C’est la vie.
The second part that really struck me was the phrase “self-identify”. This is where the fun may really start. As the zeitgeist has increasingly demanded that transgender individuals must be treated as the gender they claim to identify with, there has been some pushback about the potential for abuse. To date actual cases are rare, teenage boys haven’t rushed to compete in girls’ sports, although there are some cases and the impact on the girls affected is significant. And there are at least a few reported cases of women and girls being spied upon as a result of trans men having access to dressing rooms. But in most areas of life (to date) the impact has been quite limited.
But perhaps things will start to get more interesting very soon. Note that the statement from Coke referred to those who self-identify as any of the listed victim groups. So, if you’re a straight white male applying for one of these coveted jobs, might you decide to “self-identify” as one of them? Will you be required to specify which one or provide any evidence? If you’re as white as Gwyneth Paltrow, a triathlete and married to a woman, will anyone ask, umm, Eric, which category do you qualify for?
We’ve had a few instances where this got ticklish in the U.S. – Elizabeth Warren’s Cherokee-ness has been a topic for a fair amount of conversation, jokes and memes. Word is that the NY Times, Washington Post, et. al. investigated this matter and concluded that she is definitely a Democrat, so never mind. Someone (sorry, missed the name & haven’t found it yet) said on TV “if she grew up thinking she was Native American, who are we to tell her otherwise?”. Seriously. Rachel Dolezal was a proud Black woman who grew up white.
But if there are serious financial benefits to claiming to be one of the now-favored groups, won’t somebody take advantage? If you’re on the committee at a prestigious law firm deciding which graduates to hire and you believe in this diversity/equity/quota business, do you get concerned if you have a lot of apparent straight white males who checked the “do you belong to one of following disadvantaged groups box” “Yes”. What if 100% of the interviewees do so? If you raise an objection, might you be subject to cancellation?
I may be wrong that this will get thorny. It may be that the coming generation of college graduates, especially from the more prestigious universities, are truly woke and sincere and will not claim a privilege they do not truly deserve. Damn, I’ll probably miss out on the job at the top law firm, but I will not falsely claim membership in one of the “now favored because they have been historically disadvantaged” groups. (From now on that’s “NFBTHBHD” (somebody remind me to trademark that, I suspect it’ll come into play soon)).
As Tim himself has pointed out numerous times, cartels usually fail because somebody cheats. So, even if almost all of our woke attorneys play it straight (sorry, couldn’t help myself), if they suspect one or two others of subterfuge, the temptation will be much greater. I imagine that it won’t be long before there is pressure to make sure that the partner group also fits the required percentages. Hmm, a six-figure raise could be mine if I decide I self-identify as NFBTHBHD, what to do? (Damn, I’m definitely going to have to work on that acronym, not only is it too long, it’s unpronounceable in English. Although the last bit is close to butthead. But I digress.)
Ahh, it finally dawns on me. This is about lawyers. Of course, they’ll all do the right thing. Cue Emily Litella.