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WHISTLE BLOWER IN AMERICAS LEGAL COMMUNITY - 32-year old Fil-American lawyer David Lat, educated in Harvard and Yale, is making waves nationwide by blogging on both the beauty and imperfections of the legal profession.


The Most Scandalous Filipino Lawyer in America

By Carlo Osi
First Posted 16:44:00 02/21/2008

Filed Under: Media, Legal services, Humor and Satire, Human Interest, Computing & Information Technology

PHILADELPHIA, USA ? Why would anyone give up a thriving career just to blog? Why would any lawyer in America or elsewhere forego a successful career in the most prestigious law firm in New York, or as Federal Prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney?s Office, to write about scandals in the law community?

Who would turn himself into a self-conceived scandal-generating machine for the heck of entertaining people? Succinctly, who would turn his back on everything he has worked and studied for to develop a tabloid-cum-blog on legal rumors, issues, pay scale and scandals that have gotten Legal Associates and law firms hooked up U.S.-wide?

Some crazy and disillusioned guy, one would guess. Maybe someone frustrated about his future, perhaps a victim of nasty office politics or one who had given up hope to institute healthy changes. Nah, it?s a 32-year old lawyer of Filipino ancestry named David Lat, currently based in Washington, DC.

David Lat, the scandal-hound

David?s phenomenal, groundbreaking blog, AbovetheLaw http://abovethelaw.com/ has developed into an addictive cult with hundreds of thousands of faithful readers spread across America. Deliberately sub-titled ?A Legal Tabloid,? it claims to be a ?behind-the-scenes look at the world of law? while providing news and gossip about the legal profession, its colorful personalities, institutions and developments.

It?s the Lifestyle Weekly, Entertainment Weekly, US weekly, In Touch Weekly and People magazine of the legal profession. And David Lat is said to be the "Perez Hilton" of the legal sphere.

AbovetheLaw.com is certainly a far cry from the rigid format of national legal publications like The American Lawyer, the National Law Journal, the American Bar Association Journal, and the International Financial Law Review. It?s a blog, it?s a tabloid, it?s interactive and it?s way too entertaining. And its author is carving out a new track for a young lawyer while still embracing both the beauty and imperfections of the legal profession.

So why did David abandon a flourishing practice with its accompanying income and perquisites to develop an interesting scandal-based, blog? He?s no pushover. A son of Philippine immigrants, his parents are successful doctors who left the Philippines for the Land of Opportunity. Since both were educated at the University of the Philippines? College of Medicine, it?s not surprising that they both have thriving practices in the U.S.

Successful and fiercely determined, they inculcated typically Asian Filipino family and social values in their son. Asian students in the United States are stereotyped as studious and academically fixated ? David was no exception. With an undergrad degree from Harvard and a law degree from Yale, he?s the top-tier kind. Seldom does one meet people with Ivy League degrees, let alone one of Filipino descent.

After clerking for a year in the Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit, Davit Lat continued his top-tier streak by accepting an offer from America?s most prestigious firm (at least according to Vault.com), Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz LLP based in New York. There he worked for 2.5 years as Litigator. Prestige, high pay, long work hours and complex cases characterize this legal institution. David had not yet conceived his blog then, although the very demanding work of a Litigation Associate may have eventually gotten to him.

Underneath Their Robes and the A3G persona

After this New York law firm stint, David proceeded to become an Assistant U.S. Attorney (Federal Prosecutor) at the U.S. Attorney?s Office in New Jersey in October 2003. It was there, months later, that he began toying with the idea of a blog that would tackle issues and personalities in the judicial department. And so he anonymously started a website called ?Underneath Their Robes? (UTR), primarily a gossip blog about people and events in the federal judiciary. This up took a lot of courage, something that would never happen in a conservative jurisdiction like the Philippines.

During this time David used the pseudonym ?Article III Groupie? ? ?A3G,? for short. Article III refers to the U.S. Constitution?s third article on the Judicial Department which essentially states that the ?Judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.?

He made it appear that he was a female lawyer from a top law school, working at a large law firm. Underneath Their Robes achieved notoriety when it conducted a poll on super-hotties in the Federal Judiciary, as well as identified right-wing judicial divas. Anonymously, he described a few state judges as "ghetto" and "icky." He also interviewed important judicial personalities and had extensive media coverage of the 2005 Supreme Court nominations.

But anonymity had to come to halt. Receiving a few blind e-mails branding him as the author of Underneath Their Robes, David Lat decided to reveal himself and face the consequences rather than to ratted on by someone else. This must have been caused by his ill-advised use of his office computer to respond to emails from avid readers. He disclosed his identity to a reporter from The New Yorker and justified his dual personalities as having a serious interest in legal issues yet still poking at fun and gossip.

He wasn?t fired by the U.S. Attorney?s Office after the revelation but was counseled to remove the blog and put everything behind him. He did so and managed to work peacefully at the said office for about four more months before resigning. He missed blogging. It was at this stage that he decided to blog full-time, to the persistent consternation of his conservative Filipino parents and their tightly-knit circle of Filipino family friends.

Full-time Blogging and AbovetheLaw.com

After Underneath Their Robes, David ventured into another blogging endeavor based in Washington, DC, which lasted six months. In the middle of 2006, he started his present blog, AbovetheLaw.com, controversially featuring ?Law Dean Hotties, attorneys who wear high-cut shorts at firm BBQs, and gay associates accidentally outed to partners.? As a ?lawyer-turned-blawger,? he has revealed a lot ? in total defiance of convention on what a young, well-educated attorney should be doing.

David Lat is not the first to break away from the mold of what a lawyer is expected to be and to do. Jerry Springer, host of the trash TV show The Jerry Springer Show, where disputants nearly always hit each other, is a lawyer. There too are TV judges who command a viewership of 10 million a show: Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Mathis, and many others. There are many people from the legal profession who decided to do other things totally unrelated to their profession, or work in a slightly different field but still within the bounds of the legal profession. Let?s call it legal professionals with a twist.

Breaking Away from Conventional Norms

As to David, he?s broken away from what typically characterizes a young attorney who would normally work in a law firm or clerk for a judge, rise to a mid-level Associate, possibly wait out the seniority needed for partnership promotion, or transfer to a bank or company as in-house counsel. They can also become prosecutors all throughout their careers. Maybe even serve as a community organizer like Barack Obama.

Hardly ever will a lawyer transition from up-and-coming Associate and Federal Prosecutor to full-time blogger.
David Lat now represents this radical change that others may wish to follow.

But blogging about legal or judicial scandals also serves a therapeutic purpose for him. If playing golf or fraternizing with judges (unethical in many legal cultures) is a pastime of many lawyers, blogging apparently keeps David sane. An article written about him a year ago says that blogging allowed him to be sane and calm amid the chaos around him ? notably his sister?s untimely death through suicide, which happened during the infancy of Underneath Their Robes.

Need to Redefine Filipino Family Mentality

Another important significance of David Lat?s deviation from normal lawyerly activities is that it signals the need for a redefinition of the fundamental Filipino (and/or Asian) family mentality. Ever wonder why the parents of young Fil-Ams left the motherland? The United States presented itself as a better haven. Once in the States, the Filipino family tries its best to maintain closeness, instilling the core value of education in the children and treating the concept of leaving the nest at 18 years old as optional.

Since parents uprooted themselves from the Philippines to have a better life in the States, by no means should the children screw it up by engaging in illegal endeavors, throwing away their lives or having little regard for academics. Coming from UP College of Medicine, where it?s extremely difficult to get admitted, David?s parents were surely going to put a lot of pressure on him to perform well in school and attain a stable future.

This Filipino Family Paradigm does not generally pose problems. What can be troublesome is when children want to try out college courses or fields of work not related to their parents? specialization. Filipino parents also get worried if their Fil-Am kids do not work in the field they graduated from. Nursing is for nurses, Law for lawyers, Medicine for doctors. But taking up Law at Yale and then go do what? Blogging?

An article about David Lat states that ?He is a modern-day American archetype ? the high-achieving Asian perpetually terrified that he will be a vast disappointment to his parents.? Academically, he has far exceeded his parents. Without question, the status and educational environment at Harvard and Yale far exceed the University of the Philippines. Work expectation is another matter, however.

Confused Parents

In a testimonial dinner at the University of Pennsylvania Law School?s APALSA conference some weeks back, David Lat confessed that his parents and their family friends were confused about what he?s presently doing. They?re aware that he graduated from the best schools America has to offer, worked at the most prestigious law firm and served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. And now what? He blogs? About what?

His parents may be saying to each other: How can we proudly tell (or brag to) our friends about our attorney-son when we don?t even know what blogging is all about.
Filipino and Asian parents hammer the ethics and values of hard work, determination, perseverance and being-proud-of-yourself into their children. These are great values, but the moment parents step into the career or university choices of their children and dictate (or try to) what to do ? based on their own hardships and experiences under dictatorial, autocratic or Communist governments ? it becomes an annoyance.

Perhaps this uncertainty and confusion that Filipino and Asian parents sometimes associate with their children?s unclear work or fields of interest should be clarified once and for all.

A Different Kind of Success

Should success be defined only by how much money one earns or standing in a chosen profession? Shouldn?t it have something to do with feeling fulfilled, useful, happy and contented? Money or stability is only one factor ? should it be top of the list?

Someone once called David Lat an ?Internet gossip maven.? He can also be accurately described as ?the most scandalous Filipino lawyer in America.? He obviously loves scandals as well as attracts them. But the scandals and the career choices he?s made seem deliberate attempts at fulfillment. It?s a moving away from traditional norms of ostensible lawyering that all lawyers should be thinking of as well. Quite possibly, many lawyers are envious of his shift.

Looks like David will blog on, perhaps farther than people expected. For the conservatives out there, perhaps altering the tag ?blogging? to ?online journalism? may sound more acceptable.

In his own words, David finds ?blogging more fun and fulfilling than practicing law, at least for now. That could certainly change in the future. But for now, blogging feels ?right? for me, most consistent with my personality and who I am.? That?s David Lat indeed.

The author is a Master of Laws candidate at the University of Pennsylvania Law School concurrently undergoing a cross-disciplinary program at the Wharton School. Send comments to carlo.osi@gmail.com or through http://eastofturtleisland.blogspot.com/.

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