Privilege without Connections

I hear, all the time, the kinds of statements that malign children of privilege for having it easy. And some of us do. But statements that pit “us” against “them” and say things like, “I don’t have rich parents, so I couldn’t find a job when I graduated” oversimplify an extremely complex issue. I’ve been wanting to talk about this for awhile, but it’s really hard to talk about privilege when you have it. You end up sounding like a defensive jerk, but at the same time, I’m a little tired of being picked on for where I come from, and I’m tired of not being allowed into some of the discussions about privilege, and I don’t think I should need to be completely self-loathing to be allowed in to the discussions.  So here’s where I’m starting – the question of parents, and privilege, and what kind of parents give you what kind of privilege.

I had a friend in law school whose father had his own law firm. Said friend had worked very hard in undergraduate school and gotten a full scholarship to law school. He went to work for his father during the summers, not because he wanted to necessarily, but because no other firm in the area would hire him, saying, “when you graduate, you’re going to go work for your father, not us.” During our last two years, I barely saw him because he worked nearly full time, and I haven’t seen him since we took the bar exam, because he works a lot. So I have a lot of trouble harboring bitterness towards people whose parents give them a job, because I’m inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they also work hard.

My parents are a doctor and a lawyer and they work hard, but they aren’t great at networking. They don’t have connections. The only person my Dad has sent me to to talk to about getting a job was a woman he met in a Trader Joe’s. She was very nice, but man, “my Dad met you at Trader Joe’s” doesn’t seem like a great opening line. Plus, he sent her a post I’d written for my wedding blog to show how smart I was. So I’d say, in the long run, it doesn’t really help me that my Dad is a lawyer, but a lot of people assume it does. My parents said the same things coming up in the world that a lot of  my friends who eschew networking say, which is that “if I work hard, I should be able to get where I need to be on my own.” Which was true, but isn’t so much anymore.

I do not think I am more entitled to a job than people whose grandparents didn’t have doctorate degrees. But I also do not think I am more entitled to a job than people whose parents own law firms, which I see a lot of in some of my friends. I know very few lawyer children of lawyers who were allowed to run around and be selfish and spoiled and then got a cushy job at their parent’s firm where they don’t actually have to work. I know many children of lawyers who got better access to Judges, government agencies, or law firms than I had, but I also know many people who did not come from privilege, but got mentored by a professor with good connections or made friends with the right people in law school or just worked crazy hard and got where they wanted to be. I do believe that lawyering, and finding a successful law job is about connections, but I’m not sure how much I believe that it depends so much on who your parents are.

Arguably, the issue of student loan debt is a much more influential factor than who your parents are or who they know. People who come from privilege are likely to graduate without debt or without as much debt, or to be in debt to their parents, interest-free, and are potentially more likely to have the option to move back home and live with their parents in a “good” area with more job potential. People who don’t have debt are able to take low-paying legalish jobs instead of high-paying non-law jobs. However, people who needed to earn money in law school usually took jobs as law clerks or legal assistants which they were able to keep after graduation, sometimes turning into attorney positions, whereas people of privilege are more likely to take non-paying public interest internships that give them great experience, but probably haven’t led to a job. My point here isn’t to say, “lets all feel sorry for the rich kids” because well, no. My point is, it’s complicated. I think there is a lot of discussion to be had about privilege and the legal profession. I think in this economy, it’s a discussion worth having. So have at it – what do you think?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Privilege without Connections

  1. Jo

    In my experience, people who go to work for their parents end up working about five times harder. It’s also harder to be objective, because it’s a family business, and you’re trying to avoid family fights as well as work fights.

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