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6 posts from June 2017

June 21, 2017

Trump Has a Beauty Queen Problem

Fark_oD8NqZtludtCkqYbMJ0r2Slp9gkIt's time for another Careerist edition of news and gossip. Here are some fodder for your next summer cocktail party:

Finally, a lawyer that would even get Donald Trump's seal of approval! We all know that The Donald is an aficionado of beauty contests. We also know that he loves winners. So he must be tickled at the prospect of having a bona fide beauty contest winner taking a key legal role in the probe of his administration's alleged Russian ties.

And who is this lawyer cum beauty queen? Elizabeth Barchas Prelogar, Miss Idaho 2004! (Hat tip: Above the Law .)

One teensy little problem: She's working for the enemy—Robert Mueller, the guy that Trump reportedly wants to fire.

As you might expect from a member of Mueller's elite team, Prelogar has serious legal chops. An assistant to the solicitor general, she's a Harvard Law School graduate and a former law clerk to Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, reports Tony Mauro of The National Law Journal. To top it off, she speaks Russian—which should come in handy for the probe.

Too bad she's not on Team Trump because she could be the president's dream lawyer: Beauty, brains, the works. As Trump might say, "If she weren't my opposing counsel, I'd be dating her."

Trump appoints "lawyer" to head housing, but where's the law degree? I'm not one of those people who thinks that a law degree makes you smarter or more qualified for a top administrative job. But if you're going to flaunt your J.D., it might be nice if you actually possess the degree.

Alas, Lynne Patton, whom Trump just appointed to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development for Region II (New York and New Jersey are included) has neither the right experience nor the purported law degree she lists on LinkedIn.

So what's her qualification? Well, Patton seems very good at keeping the Trump family happy.  The New York Daily News reports: "She’s arranged tournaments at Trump golf courses, served as the liaison to the Trump family during his presidential campaign, and even arranged Eric Trump’s wedding."

As for her law degree, Patton claims she graduated from Quinnipiac University School of Law. (As of this writing, she still lists a J.D. on her LinkedIn page). But when the Daily News contacted the school's registrar, it turned out she only attended for two semesters. (Patton also lists Yale University as a credential, though she doesn't list a degree. Did she once visit it?)

Of course, she's getting grief that her only real qualification for the job was being an excellent wedding planner for Eric Trump. But, hey, Ben Carson didn't have any housing experience to head HUD except be a brain surgeon. Arguably, the logistics of running the largest regional HUD office is more akin to running a Trump wedding production than brain surgery.

The top four firms for law school recruiting. The summer is still young, but I'm ready to make an early prediction. The top firms for the upcoming recruiting season will be:

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher

Kirkland & Ellis

Sullivan & Cromwell

Williams & Connolly

Why these four firms? Because they were the ones that reportedly turned down Trump as a client to address his on-going legal woes.

Given the liberal leanings of most big firm lawyers, it's smart strategy to be known as the firm that told Trump to take a hike. In fact, I'd say these firms are wearing it as a badge of honor. I'd go so far as to say that they want the anti-Trump brand—unlike Jones Day, which has filled the administration with its alums (Jones Day partner Don McGahn leads the White House Counsel office) and Morgan Lewis whose tax partner Shari Dillion got skewered for taking the stage in announcing that the administration had no business conflicts.

Yahoo News' Michael Isikoff reports that lawyers at the four firms cited various reasons for declining Trump (Brendan Sullivan of Williams & Connolly said he was too busy), but one lawyer summed it up best: "The guy won’t pay and he won’t listen."

Not paying and not listening are always sound reasons to diss any potential client—especially the not paying part.


Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. On Twitter: @lawcareerist





June 16, 2017

Take Your Pick: 1) Ditzy Broad. 2) Angry Bitch.



Lordy. Lordy. Lordy.

Are men really this terrified of us?

In case you're not keeping score, the sexist comments are flying these days! I can't parse all of them, so let's just focus on two recent incidents.

First, there was that meeting at Uber in which Arianna Huffington mentioned that having women on boards helps encourage more women to join. In response, her fellow (now ex) board member David Bonderman said, "Actually, what it shows is that it's much more likely to be more talking."

Then there was this: California Senator Kamala Harris was called "hysterical" by CNN pundit and former Trump advisor Jason Miller for the way she questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions before the Senate. (Worth noting: CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers immediately criticized Miller for his word choice.)

Beside reinforcing stereotypes about women, these comments convey another message: Women should shut up. Or at least tone it way, way down.

Bonderman's remark is stunningly condescending. He's essentially saying that women add no value to serious discussions except suck up valuable air time from men. (Never mind that many studies show that women don't talk nearly as much in meetings as men. And never mind that Bonderman made his remark during a discussion about fixing Uber's problems with diversity and inclusion.)

As for Miller's "hysterical" comment, that's an oldie but goodie; he's suggesting that women who do their jobs zealously are emotionally unstable and shrill. (As we all know, the best way to attack a woman  who threatens the male order is to label her unhinged, vengeful and maybe a bit slutty.)

Ironically, the two comments represent two extreme views of women who operate in male dominated arenas: They're either not up to the job (vapid chatter boxes, in Bonderman's view), or castrating careerists (Miller's view of Harris' advocacy style).

Speaking from the New York bubble, I think most people would find Bonderman's attitude antiquated. (Haven't we all been in enough meetings where men hog the stage with their not-so-brilliant comments?)

Our feelings about assertive women? Well, that's more complicated.

As any female over the age of three knows, it's really, really important to be well-liked if you want to get along in the world. And guess what? We tend not to like women who are aggressive or ambitious. (Studies show that women are penalized for the same behaviors that are acceptable for men.)

Which means that Harris' problem is what a lot of women face, particularly in fields like law where you are suppose to be aggressive. Her "style" problem, I think, is that she behaved like a lawyer during the hearings (remember, she was California's attorney general)—meaning she was tough and direct.

Do we need reminding that a Congressional hearing is not some sort of high tea where Harris is tasked with serving finger sandwiches and making polite chit-chat? I don't know if Harris was measurably harsher than her colleagues on Sessions, but I'd argue she was doing her job. What's wrong with roughing up Sessions, who was so evasive during the hearings, when the whole point of a Congressional investigation is to probe the murky relationship between the Trump administration and Russia?

But for a host of reasons, we cringed at such directness from a woman. Sessions, for one, acted like he deserved to be treated with more delicacy. Responding to Harris, he said: "I’m not able to be rushed this fast. It makes me nervous." (Luckily for him, Senator John McCain swept to his rescue, chastising Harris for being overbearing.)

So there you have it: An assertive woman is so scary and menacing that even the attorney general of the United States quakes in his boots, melting into a helpless Southern belle.

Come to think of it, I'm okay with that.

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. On Twitter: @lawcareerist

Photo: Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.

June 13, 2017

James Comey: Feminist du Jour?


James Comey is making me feel much better about being a woman.

I mean, isn't it refreshing that a 6-foot, 8-inch hunk of a guy can be reduced to a girly-girl?

I'm talking, of course, about how helpless and confused he seemed when Donald Trump kept hitting him up for some one-on-one time. During his recent Senate testimony, Comey revealed his dread about being alone with the most powerful man in the world—like how he implored Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to leave his side at the White House, and how his heart sank when he learned that Trump had arranged to dine alone with him. And then there was his catatonic response to Trump's demand for loyalty: "I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed."

Like women all over America, my reaction was, "Hey, I know that drill." Still, it was weirdly comforting that a big, strong guy like Comey is no better at handling a manipulative, slimy guy in power than we women are. So score one for gender equality!

What's more, he's getting the third degree, just like women who've publicly accused the boss of bad behavior. Members of Congress and pundits jumped on him, pummeling him with questions—like why he didn't rebuke Trump immediately or report Trump's actions to the Attorney General? And why did Comey take Trump's calls if he found the president's actions so offensive.

To women who've worked in law firms, companies or any other institution dominated by men, those questions are awfully silly. If you're being harassed or bullied by some muckety-muck (probably male), does anyone believe that the tables will be turned by calling him out? As for running to the management committee or HR, hah! Especially if the abusive boss is a big rainmaker or key exec, it doesn't take a genius to figure out who's expendable. And, yes, the hapless employee will continue to take the boss's calls because, well, he's the boss. (In Comey's case, that boss happens to be the president of the United States.)

I love it that Comey has shown his damsel-in-distress side. It should make everyone much more empathetic about the power inequities in the work place and how women are often caught between a rock and a hard place.

But there are limits to the Comey/woman analogy. Being a male (and white) gives him credibility and dignity that's often denied to women in similar situations.

For one thing, no one is suggesting that Comey is nutty and slutty—which is what happened to Anita Hill and the women who've charged Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly and Trump of sexual assault. (Okay, Trump did call Comey a "nut job" but at least he didn't mock Comey's anatomical parts.)

Granted, I don't think there were sexual sparks between Comey and Trump (though it did seem like Trump was out to seduce him with a romantic dinner in the Green Room). But even when sex isn't at the heart of a complaint, there's always a sexual element involved when the threat comes from a woman. In fact, the fastest way to knock down a woman who jeopardizes male authority is to paint her as a woman scorned. (Remember how Bridget Anne Kelly was portrayed as an unhinged, jilted woman by Gibson Dunn & Crutcher's controversial investigation report on Governor Chris Christie's Bridgegate scandal?)

Make no mistake Comey will get slammed—hard—by Trump and his surrogates. He'll be brutalized and he'll be called a liar, a coward and a leaker.

At least he won't be labeled a crazy bitch.

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. On Twitter: @lawcareerist



June 8, 2017

Mr. Kellyanne Conway Is His Own Man

George holding Kellyanne's fur coat at inauguration party.


I always knew he was a smart cookie. And sure enough, he did what anyone with career savvy would do: Spurned a big job offer with the Trump administration and ran for the hills.

I'm talking about George Conway, Trump's pick to lead the civil division of the Department of Justice. Though Big Law cognoscenti know he's a big wheel—he's a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, for goodness sake!—most Americans probably regard him as the arm-candy (and husband) of Kellyanne Conway, Trump's famously infamous advisor.

Now, however, George Conway is introducing himself to the rest of America and telling everyone he's his own man. Not only did he refuse Trump's offer but, two days later, he blasted Trump, essentially saying, "Glad I'm not part of that legal hellhole."

First, let's look at the curious way he dissed the job. His statement reads:

I have reluctantly concluded, however, that, for me and my family, this is not the right time for me to leave the private sector and take on a new role in the federal government.

Dig that "family" excuse. You usually hear "family" from women who want out of high-pressured jobs—but rarely from men. And you certainly don't expect that from a hard-driving Wachtell partner. Is Conway saying that he's carrying most of the burdens at home in New Jersey because Kellyanne is too busy with her White House career? (George Conway did not respond to my call for comment.)

And what's that jazz about not being "the right time for me to leave the private sector"? Is he suggesting that he can't afford to go into government? Granted, the Conways have a fairly large family (four kids), but Wachtell's profit per partner is close to a whopping $6 million! C'mon, he can afford college for at least a dozen kids on that pay.

What's obvious is that Conway doesn't want the DOJ job. And who could blame him? He's got a swell career and he's making an ungodly sum of money. (Did I mention that $6 million PPP already?) And though it's normally a nice capstone to get a high government post after a successful private sector gig, a lot of folks seem to be running away from the honor in this administration.

Conway knows that joining team Trump can be a disaster—and he's saying so. He showed his disdain for the administration when Trump recently complained on twitter about how "the original Travel Ban" had been "watered down" into a "politically correct version." Conway jumped on his case, tweeting:

These tweets may make some ppl feel better, but they certainly won't help OSG get 5 votes in SCOTUS, which is what actually matters. Sad.

Conway is essentially saying that Trump is stupid or a nut job. To underscore that point, he ends it with a Trumpism: "Sad." He might as well have added: "Loser." "Disaster." "Complete Fail."

Of course, Conway did try to temper that tweet with other tweets right afterwards: "I still VERY, VERY STRONGLY support POTUS, his Admin, policies, the executive order. . . .and of course, my wonderful wife." (We'll get to the wife later.)

But then he banged out other tweets, suggesting that the lawyers in the administration can't or won't put a clamp on Trump's big mouth. (Paging White House Counsel Don McGahn!) At one point, he tweets that "every sensible lawyer" would "agree with me (as some have already told me)."

And maybe that's Conway strategy: to get his wife the hell out of there. Maybe he's doing Kellyanne a favor by putting her in such an uncomfortable, awkward position that she'll have to quit—or be forced out.
It's just his way of saying, "Honey, time to come home."

June 5, 2017

Millennials Want Gender Equality? Not Really.


Women lawyers are such optimists. Why else would they say that millennials are leading the charge for gender equality and that there's progress on that front? Women swear that this next generation will bridge the gap between the sexes because it values diversity, demands work/life balance and won't put up with their fathers' B.S.

I'd love to drink the millennial Kool-Aid. But I'm not sure this is the group that I'd pin my hopes on.

In fact, there are troubling signs that millennials have reactionary tendencies. The latest example: A study released by Council on Contemporary Families that finds that a notable majority—58 percent—believe that the man should be the primary breadwinner in the family. (The study polled high school seniors in 2014, comparing the responses over a 20 year period.) That's a big step backwards for feminism, considering that only 42 percent expressed those views back in 1994.

Also disconcerting: Male authority is enjoying a renaissance. In 1976, 59 percent of respondents disagreed that “the husband should make all the important decisions in the family.” By 1994, 71 percent disagreed. In 2014, only 63 percent had problems with this return to patriarchy.

But here's the paradox: Despite the conservative trend on the home front, millennials strongly support job equality—or so they claim. Since 1994, 91 percent of high school seniors have agreed that "women should be considered as seriously as men for jobs as executives or politician,” and 89 percent said that “a woman should have exactly the same job opportunities as a man.”

In a nutshell: Millennials believe in equality at the office—but, increasingly, not necessarily in their own homes.

The report's authors (Joanna Pepin of University of Maryland and David Cotter of Union College) theorize that the preference for male breadwinners is a reaction to the logistical difficulties of having two working parents and men's loss of status in the current economy. As for the male decider stuff—the "resurgence in beliefs about men’s dominance over women in the home"—they're stymied.

Whatever the reason, none of this bodes well for women. If the Father-Knows-Best model is what prevails at home, what are the chances that the cult of male superiority won't spill into the office too—particularly in competitive, testosterone-fueled  professions like law?

Unfortunately, women have been absorbing that message too, foregoing high stakes careers and following a "female" route. Not only do few women make it into the top ranks of Big Law (they represent barely 18 percent of all equity partners), few are even putting their hat into the ring. Instead, many land on the "mommy track" or what I call the "Pink Ghetto"—jobs that offer predictable hours but few opportunities for career advancement or practice areas with little prestige or money. Women are well-represented in low-luster areas like education, family law, health care, immigration and labor and employment, but scarce in high-profile areas like M&A and big litigation, according to ALM Intelligence.

Whether women are opting for these practices out of choice or societal pressure is hard to pinpoint. That said, our continuing ambivalence and distaste about women holding power—economic and personal—certainly don't create the right conditions for female ambition.

Pepin, one of the co-authors, tells me that gender equality peaked over 20 years: "Other metrics also show a stall starting in the mid 1990s—increases in the female labor force participation, the pace of closing the gender pay gap, time gap in time spent doing housework."

Looking for a silver lining in this conservative trend? Pepin offers this little morsel: "The youth whose mothers were employed while they were growing up were more progressive than their peers."

That means having a working mom is a valuable role model. (And what a relief that kids with working moms aren't holding it against them!)

But Pepin warns that the shift toward traditional gender roles means stagnation. If millennials see no reason to change family dynamics, she says, "it is unclear how social changes for women to make progress might come about."

Women reaching the 50 percent mark of equity partners in law firms by 2020 or 2025? Dream on.




June 2, 2017

Flip Flops, Tank Tops, Tattoos—Oh My!



We've had some sweltering days in New York recently, so naturally our thoughts turn to shallower things—like what to wear to work in the yucky heat. Here's the issue: How much can you bare in the office without jeopardizing your professional credibility?

I don't know if this is a burning issue at your office, but a recent survey of over 400 managers finds that 50 percent of them "have experienced obstacles or discomfort when dealing with employees sporting overly revealing/casual summer clothing." (Seyfarth Shaw's compliance and consulting arm conducted the survey. And yes, Seyfarth had its share of problems recently, but that's a topic for another day.)

Here are managers' top gripes about the way underlings dress, according to the survey:

- 54 percent: overly revealing attire.

- 51 percent: overly casual attire (flip flops, no shoes, ripped clothes).

- 25 percent: overly distracting tattoos or piercings.

- 17 percent: obnoxious logos/decals.

Most lawyers I know are pleasantly uptight—about most everything—so could risqué dress be an issue in law firms?

You bet, says Philippe Weiss, managing director of Seyfarth's consulting group, who advises clients about dress codes, among other matters. Newbie lawyers, he says, sometimes require "an apparel adjustment period," and have to be weaned out of some bad fashion habits, like flip flops in the office.

I can understand the temptation to wear flip flops in the office (hey, if Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan lawyers wear them with impunity, why not the rest of us?), but I'm not sure I'm ready for big tattoos in Big Law. Weiss says, however, they're increasingly popping out: "Usually, though not always, the tattoo is a relic of an earlier pre-law school life and/or lifestyle." He cautions, however, that firms need to address tattoos carefully, because they "can raise religious and other risks."

Tattoos, flip flops, shorts, spaghetti strap tops, bare midriffs: Are these really the things that drive firm managers batty during the long, hot summer?

"Not at our firm," insist the folks I talked to at several big firms, adding that their associate dress appropriately. "If anything, the summer associates tend to be super conservative," says a partner.

That said, firms are increasingly casual. I have certainly seen a gradation of what's considered acceptable. Though "traditional" casual still means polo shirt paired with pressed khakis (snore), ripped jeans (as opposed to jeans with holes, which are merely old) and t-shirts are not uncommon in firms.

Is all this a slippery slope toward  sloppiness?

Maybe yes. But those who get uptight by this trend tend to be older lawyers. "Just how casual attorneys dress is very much dependent on each firm's culture," says Weiss, adding, "we do see a certain generational butting-of-the-heads in law firms with respect to what is deemed overly casual."

Indeed, a mid-level associate at a big firm doesn't see what the big deal is with wearing tank tops or shorts during the summer. "I don't think anyone notices," she says, adding, "my firm is casual all-year round. If you're working like a dog, who's going to call you out for being comfortable?"

 In other words, it's your hangup, not theirs.

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. On Twitter: @lawcareerist

About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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