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I found it unnerving to read Kaloma Cardwell’s complaint against Davis Polk & Wardwell for racial discrimination. It wasn’t because Cardwell unveiled the esteemed firm as some sinister establishment populated with bigots.

Quite the contrary. Cardwell depicts a firm that prides itself on being aware of racial and gender inequities in the workplace and strives to address them. At the same time, though, the firm comes across as a club in which some people are admitted and others quietly frozen out—for whatever reason.

Vivia ChenLike many firms, Davis Polk seems to operate on a vague set of unspoken rules. For me, the complaint brought back unpleasant memories of how confusing and demoralizing it is to be an associate—particularly if you’re a young minority member or a woman. And at a place like Davis Polk, with its veneer of understated civility, the rules are arguably even more opaque.

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Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen is a senior columnist at The American Lawyer and the creator of The Careerist blog.

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