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Will Being Named a "Hottie" Kill Your Career?

Vivia Chen

March 8, 2018


The esteemed firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom probably wishes this never popped up on my radar: This is the 10th year anniversary of Skadden's "hottie" associate contest! I would have totally missed that milestone had my colleague Brian Baxter not brought it to my attention, wryly asking, "How are we all going to celebrate this?"

Well, I'm here for the party!

First, a refresher. In 2008, two enterprising (or bored) employees rolled out the contest on the firm's in-house blog Skadden Insider. About 400 Skadden employees voted, anointing a blond associate the official hottie. Being an equal opportunity firm, a contest for the hottest male associate was also in the works. But before the male contest got started, the powers-that-be at Skadden shut down the contests and eventually scrubbed the site of any trace of that history.

In the post #MeToo era, all this looks like a textbook cringeworthy moment. How could a serious law firm allowed the contest to go as far as it did? 

But I'm not here to jump on the condemnation bandwagon and vent outrage at what happened in those "dark" ages. Nor am I here to congratulate ourselves on how much more enlightened we've become.

Au contraire. Truth is, there's a part of me that's a bit nostalgic for those randy days of innocence when we could joke about things like "hotties" or the sexiest lawyer in the land (which, of course, is a joke within itself).  

I know, I know: We shouldn't objectify people, especially women who are often not taken seriously enough. And, yeah, that sort of cheeky contest probably shouldn't be on a firm's internal website.

I get all that, but, hey, do we have to so damn earnest and serious all the time? 

It seems we’re getting awfully squeamish about the whole subject of sex appeal. Not that long ago, Above the Law used to name hotties all the time (law school dean hottieslaw librarian hotties, and, of course, countless lawyer hotties). At one point, ATL even designated ERISA hotties, which, I assume, was no easy feat. Alas, ATL seems to have scrapped its entire hottie franchise.

To me, it’s all a harbinger that we’re entering a puritanical era. Mention someone’s looks, attractiveness or sex appeal, and people accuse you of sexism, lookism or some other “ism.”

Why do we have to pretend that sex appeal doesn’t exist or matter in this profession, like any other field? (I think we can all admit that being attractive is always a useful arsenal in the career game, for men and women.) And why do we have to pretend that lawyers are de-sexed?

Maybe I’m an outlier, but I don’t think getting a shout-out for being “hot” is a career-killer. Look at Amal Clooney or the hunks at Paul Weiss, who’ve been celebrated for their good looks.

So here’s my proposition: Let’s bring back the hottie lawyer lists. So long as both men and women are included, why not have a little fun? Besides, wouldn’t most people simply regard the idea of a hottie-lawyer as an exercise in irony?



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Macaulay said the Puritans hated bear-baiting " . . . not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators."

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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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