Real Lawyers Weigh in On Whether Elizabeth Wurtzel Can Claim to Be One of Them
Above the Law has asked some legal experts to weigh on on our post last week wondering whether non-lawyer Elizabeth Wurtzel can claim to be a lawyer before she passes the bar.
Above the Law describes our examination of whether Wurtzel's apparent claim to be a lawyer in an interview last week violates New York law as "parsing," and that's the best word for it: We never thought the cops were going to treat her like some common Harvard professor and haul her off to jail. But we love the law almost as much as Elizabeth, so we looked it up, and it sure seemed to us like you can't go around calling yourself a lawyer if you haven't passed the bar.
One of the experts Above the Law asked flatly disagreed, saying Wurtzel's "casual reference" to herself as a lawyer was kosher. Another, NYU Law School's Stephen Gillers, was willing to entertain our complaint:
Wurtzel's statement is sloppy. It is subject to two interpretations. If she is not admitted anywhere, the kinder interpretation would be that she is happy being useful "like a lot of young lawyers [are, even though I am not one]." But I think the more natural reading is that she is happy being useful "like a lot of [other] young lawyers."
Nonetheless, giving the wrong impression in a casual remark is not going to get Wurtzel into trouble when she applies to the bar (assuming she hasn't already done so and eventually does).
And everyone knows that sloppy attorneys are the best kind! We're curious what Gillers would make of this description Wurtzel offered of her professional status, in Elle magazine in May (and flagged by commenter PICKLES_IN_MY_TUNA):
These days, I am a stable adult professional—a practicing attorney, capable of common sense—but I still know how to live life on the edge.
That doesn't sound sloppy so much as a direct claim to being a practicing attorney. Anyway, the bar exam is tomorrow, and we second Above the Law's wish of the best of luck to Ms. Wurtzel. We still harbor the occasional desire to throw it all away and go to law school, and we've essentially guaranteed, karmically speaking, that we're going to fail the bar many times over.
Update: We asked Wurtzel for her comment. Taking a break from studying from the bar exam, she emails:
This is my understanding: if you graduate from law school/receive a JD, you are a lawyer; if you are licensed, you are an attorney. That's what I've always been told.
Not too many nice things to say about the Bar Exam. Every year, some very gifted people fail it (Hillary Clinton, Kathleen Sullivan of Stanford Law School)—and every year, a lot of real idiots pass it. Hard to know what to make of that ;-)