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Who's Got Erotic Capital? Litigators or Corporate Lawyers?

Vivia Chen

March 29, 2012

Legs.Fotolia_13816448_XSAre litigators hotter than other lawyers? I know that seems like a set up for a bad joke, but indulge me for now.

Let's compare the rock stars of legaldom. On the litigation side, David Boies and Ted Olson spring to mind. For corporate lawyers, I'd go with Marty Lipton and H. Rodgin Cohen. (Pity that female lawyers don't come to mind—but that's a post for another day.)

Of these two groups, which one would you vote for? According to Catherine Hakim, a research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies and a former faculty member at the London School of Economics, there's no doubt that the litigators would win hands-down.

The author of Erotic Capital, a book that explores "the power of attraction in the boardroom and the bedroom," Hakim chatted with me recently about how sex appeal can be deployed in a lawyer's career.

You write that  lawyers with above-average looks earned 10–12 percent more than those with below-average looks. How did you come up with that?
It was based on a study of graduates of a top law school in America, who were a well-fed, good-looking lot to begin with. But the better-looking ones earned even more over time.

Frankly, I can think of some homely lawyers who are mega successes. Hasn't law always given refuge to the not-so-beautiful? I mean, don't high grades trump attractiveness, personality, etc.? 
Appearance matters [because] lawyering involves public performance. Lawyers have to get clients—unlike shopkeepers, who just wait for people to come into the store.

And the ultimate public performers in your book seem to be litigators. Do you really think they are the most attractive of the lot?
Yes. If you go to court, and you are attractive, you're more likely to be believed by the jury. The most attractive lawyers go into litigation, where erotic capital yields the highest returns.

What is erotic capital?
It's both physical and social attraction. Most people with physical attraction have good social skills too. The world smiles at them, and they smile back. It pervades all social classes.

If you're smart but not good-looking, are you doomed to fail in a profession like law?
Being charming will still get you ahead. Most people are not born great beauties. But you need to make a serious effort [at being attractive].

"Serious effort" sounds like a lot of work. Do you think the standard for appearance has gone up these days?
All the professions are attracting more attractive people, and people are making more effort than ever to be attractive. During the recession, one industry in Britain that did not suffer was cosmetic surgery. 

Isn't it kind of extreme to get cosmetic surgery to get ahead in a career like law or finance?
In Brazil, investment in cosmetic surgery is regarded as just as rational as investing in educational qualifications. . . . You can't change your C.V., but you can improve your appearance.

But how far would you go? Would you advise women to get breast augmentation to further their careers?
I doubt that breast augmentation has career benefits, except in a very narrow range of occupations.

And I assume law is not within that range. At the same time, though, you seem to advocate that women shouldn't be shy about deploying their sex appeal. So should they dress more provocatively? Maybe show some cleavage?
I think that would be a mistake. Short skirts, cleavage would not be appropriate for women in banking, finance, or law. You have to take your cues from the men. If the men wouldn't wear [a comparable style], you shouldn't either.

Speaking of taking cues from men, what do you think of the current vogue for Maggie Thatcher, who seems to epitomize the masculine, desexed power look?
Oh, I don't think she was mannish at all! It astonishes me that the American view is that she dressed in a masculine fashion. Her male colleagues thought of her as very sexy. She flirted with her colleagues, and men were very attracted to her. Thatcher knew how to use her erotic capital—she wore pearls, carried a handbag, and wore pussycat bows.

It's fascinating that you think Thatcher has tons of erotic capital, and that you disapprove of cleavage and minis in the office. You're much more conservative than what the book led me to believe. Are you equally appalled about extremely high heels? Are women risking looking like streetwalkers if they strut around in five- or six-inch heels?
I have no problem with high heels. Either you can walk in them or you can't.

Readers, cast your vote: who is the fairest of them all? Set on left—David Boies and Marty Lipton; on right—Ted Olson and H. Rodgin Cohen.

Boies_Lipton Olson_Cohen








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Just pointing out that while none of your four male choices are going to rival George Clooney, Brad Pitt or Robert Pattison, Bois and Olson are the only ones giving full-throttle smiles. Per Hakim's comments: they're the ones I'd pick. You smile (genuinely) and the world smiles back at you.

I'm sorry, but saying that "shopkeepers...just wait for people to come to the store." shows that she has no idea what she's talking about, no need to further discuss her other "ideas".

Here Hakim's ideas do seem different from those in her book, "Erotic Capital."

In the beginning of her book Catherine Hakim asks, “Why does no one encourage women to exploit men whenever they can?”

Suppose a man said, “Why does no one encourage men to exploit women?" Would he be taken as seriously as Hakim is? Or would he be run out of the country?

By "exploit men," Hakim means women should flirt and tease their way to success.

But in effect she is telling women to create a hostile work environment that exposes men to an even greater risk of sexual-harassment charges.

As for why, as Hakim says, women have more erotic capital than men, see a comprehensive look at the sexes' most destructive behavioral difference, see: "The Sexual Harassment Quagmire" at http://malemattersusa.wordpress.com/2011/12/11/the-sexual-harassment-quagmire/

According to this article, an augmentation procedure would yield better economic return than my law degree, and less debt to boot?

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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: [email protected]

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