« June 2016 | Main | August 2016 »

4 posts from July 2016

July 29, 2016

If Megyn Can Bare It, Why Not You?


It's hot and stinky out there and Donald Trump could be our next president, but let's focus on what's really the burning issue of the day: What to wear to the office? More precisely, how much skin we ladies can expose and still maintain a professional demeanor.

That is the seasonal dilemma. In the past, I've analyzed whether you can wear open toe shoes, flipflops or very short skirts. This time, I'm traveling to the northern parts of your human body: Arms and shoulders.

Frankly, I thought we've moved beyond exposed arms as an issue. But a recent Wall Street Journal article points out that "women are sometimes criticized if they are deemed too old or their arms too flabby," resulting in feelings of inadequacy. That might be true, but my impression is that increasingly women aren't heeding those criticisms. For instance, at a recent Debevoise & Plimpton women's event at The Sea Grill in Rockefeller Center, I'd say that about 50 percent of the women in attendance wore sleeveless outfits. And they looked fabulous, including the ones over 50. (Query: Are the women at Debevoise unusually toned?)

So if bare arms are now acceptable at the office, could skimpy tops be far behind? Fox News superstar reporter (and former Jones Day associate) Megyn Kelly recently slid down that slippery slope. While covering the Republican National Convention, she wore a black tank top with spaghetti straps (photo above).

The reaction: Shock and condemnation. Folks went crazy on Twitter, calling her a "whore" or looking like someone “trolling for a drink at the hotel bar.” Others suggested that she simply forgot to put on a dress over her undergarments.

Was Kelly's tank top really that scandalous? As I recall there were some crazy outfits at the RNC, like delegates wearing elephant headdresses and loud shirts made out of American or Texas flags. So what's wrong with Megyn wearing a simple little top?

Well, apparently, she breached the rule about dressing for the job. One viewer tweeted that she looked "inappropriate," adding that "professional journalists need to dress professionally." (I found this amusing because it assumes journalists look "professional," whereas most that I know look rather disheveled, albeit not sexy.)

There are those who have no problems with what she wore. "Sexy, smart Megyn Kelly has got 'it,' so she can flaunt it," says a former lawyer at Sony. "She's not like the rest of us, mere mortals."

Kelly's revealing top might be fine for TV news reporters, especially the foxy Fox variety, but it probably wouldn't cut it in law firms. The rule of thumb is that "you should be able to wear your regular bra without it showing," says corporate fashion blogger Kat Griffin, the creator of Corporette. A former Cahill Gordon associate, Griffin suggests more "finished" sleeveless tops, rather than shells or camisoles. "Kelly broke both of those rules," says Griffin.

But all this chest beating about naked arms and bare shoulders might be much to do about nothing, says Lois Herzeca, the co chair of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher's fashion practice: "It's generally so well air conditioned in offices that most women wear apparel with sleeves or wear sweaters anyway."

 Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @lawcareerist.


July 26, 2016

10 Male Behaviors that Drive Female Lawyers Crazy


Remember the advice I passed on to you ladies about how to be assertive, yet lovable? Well, it provoked a number of responses from readers (O.K., female readers). In a nutshell, some women said they're sick and tired about getting schooled on how they should behave.

"What about the men? asked a reader. A former associate at an Am Law 100 firm, emailed me: "I have been practicing for 36 years and have been reading this drivel about how women should behave for 40 years. It's time for male lawyers to behave professionally also."

She's absolutely correct. Why should the onus be on women to contort themselves to fit into a antiquated work culture so that men won't feel threatened or uncomfortable? Really, is it too much to ask—50 years after the modern women's movement—that men meet us at least half-way?

To help speed things along, let's give men a crash course on how they should behave. I asked a bunch of female lawyers about what bugs them in their dealings with male bosses and colleagues—and here's the top 10 things of what not to do:

1. Don’t sit back with your legs spread wide open when meeting with female attorneys.
2. Don’t start every meeting with a discussion about sports.
3. Don’t make comments about a female colleague’s looks, hair, blouse, shoes, etc. that you wouldn’t make about a male colleague.
4. Don’t talk about how “likable” or “unlikable” a female adversary is. (Or what an “unpleasant” face she has; see rule number 3.)
5. Don’t tell a female colleague to “tone it down” or otherwise complain about her “tone.”
6. Don’t take credit for a woman’s idea, particularly after dismissing it initially.
7. Don’t be dismissive of a woman’s idea in the first place.
8. Don’t equate a female lawyer with your wife or daughter when discussing career paths.
9. Don’t drink heavily at business functions and don’t judge women who prefer not to drink heavily or at all.
10. Don’t make sexually laden comments to a female colleague, even if you’re not trying to hit on her. Also, don’t hit on her. (And please don’t tell us about your sexual exploits; they’re boring.)

If you find all this pretty obvious or sensible, I say good for you. Even if you're committing some of these offenses, at least you're corrigible. But if you're puzzled by anything on this list or find it onerous, ridiculous or too "politically correct" (to borrow Donald Trump's term when he wants to justify bad behavior), then the sexes might be much further apart than I thought.

In any case, tell me what you really think.

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

July 20, 2016

Lawyers on the Beach


Truth or urban legend that lawyers are often too work-crazed to tear themselves away for vacation during the heat of the summer? Despite their neurotic, overworked stereotype, most lawyers I know do take a chunk of time off for summer vacation. But I guess there's something so incongruous about lawyers at leisure (picture a lawyer at the beach—pants rolled up, feet in the water—struggling to read messages on his mobile device under the blazing sun) that we are intrigued by the mere idea of lawyers having fun.

So what's the real deal about lawyers in the summertime—particularly those privileged ones in Big Law? Are they capable of unwinding and having a modicum of fun? Do they blow big bucks on lavish, exotic vacations? Or are they secretly huddled in their offices or homes (albeit in shorts and sandals) doing work?

Let's start with the top of the lawyer-glitterati chain: David Boies and Ted Olson, the dynamic duo who successfully argued for the defeat of California's Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage ordinance, before the Supreme Court last year. So how do two of the most successful (and presumably rich) lawyers in the land pass the summer?

Boies and Olson belong to the work hard, play hard summer school. No lounging around the pool sipping Cosmos, reading trashy novels, for them. In June, they biked for two weeks (50 miles a day!) through Normandy and Brittany, along with their respective wives (Mary and Lady), plus five other couples, according to Olson. Apparently, the team that argues together vacations together. "We do this every year," says Olson, adding that they've also traveled to Provence, Croatia, Ireland, the Dolomites and Umbria. 

Some lawyers, though, need to go somewhere more remote than Europe to get away from their normal high pressured jobs. Kannon Shanmugam, Williams & Connelly partner and Supreme Court litigator (he's argued 18 cases before the high court so far), says he and his family are going to Australia. "I hope to find a part of the Outback where there is no Internet service or cellphone coverage," he says. Yvette Ostolaza, managing partner of Sidley & Austin's Dallas office, essentially takes the same approach. To get away from it all and to celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary, Ostolaza and her family are going on safari in Kenya. To prep for the trip, Ostolaza says, "we're watching 'Out of Africa'."

On the other side of the spectrum are lawyers who wouldn't be relaxed CnbikoxXYAEhDA3unless they stayed in constant touch with the office. Their idea of a summer holiday is to work through it, but in more bucolic, hedonistic surroundings. That describes Gibson Dunn & Crutcher partner Randy Mastro (right). For him, work and play are just two sides of one big, beautiful beach ball.

Though he spends ample time at his weekend house in Southampton, Mastro professes, "I don't have any summer vacation plans. And I'm never off duty." He adds proudly, "I don't sleep much. I'm high energy, low maintenance." That said, it's doubtful that Mastro isn't enjoying some of the perks of the Hamptons. As co-chair of the Hamptons Film Festival, Mastro is probably hobnobbing with his co-chair Alec Baldwin and God knows what other members of the rich and famous.

Of course, there are plenty of lawyers who will work through August—and not by choice. And that's because what ultimately decides any lawyer's schedule is the client. So if the client insists that everyone be locked away in a steamy conference room, that's where you'll be.

Even Boies will be grinding away in August, preparing for the fraud trial of former AIG chief Hank Greenberg in September. (Boies does have another bike trip in Switzerland coming up before the trial, sans Olson. Boies also owns a huge sailboat that he bought from Larry Ellison where he might do some work.) Likewise, Olson seems uncertain whether he can take August off. He says he'll take the rest of his summer "one day at a time"—meaning, it seems, he's on call.

Other businesses might slow down in August, but Big Law is a different animal. Indeed, law firms seem to be fully functional throughout the dog days of summer. "Why wouldn't we be?" asks Paul Weiss litigation partner Roberta Kaplan, who successfully defeated the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court. (Kaplan took a fly fishing vacation at Big Sky with her wife and son earlier in the summer.)

"In my little world of financing M&A deals there is not likely to be any break this summer," says a partner at Latham & Watkins. That sentiment was echoed also by lawyers at Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. In fact, several lawyers seemed a bit confused, if not miffed, that I would even suggest something as silly as a slow down in August.

And what about lawyers unshackled to Big Law? Well, that's not a guarantee of a carefree season either. Marcia Clark (yes, that Marcia) says she's swamped with brief writing (she does court-appointed appellate defense work) and under deadline to finish a draft of her next crime novel. "August might as well be the dead of winter for me," says Clark.

So who's really enjoying a long, uninterrupted summer respite? The Europeans, of course. Even the Brits, facing a rocky post-Brexit world, will let nothing come between them and their sacred August holiday. "The flow of work slows down dramatically, almost to a trickle," says a London-based American partner. "That is why I have been forced to join the exodus, as both clients and lawyers are away." English lawyers, he explains, expect their privileges, no matter what: "Because so many lawyers at the elite English law firms, including the battalions of insipid and spoiled trainees, are private school graduates from the upper middle class, they tend to view a three to four week summer holiday as an entitlement rather than a respite." 

"The work ethic in the U.K. has never been comparable to what prevails at New York law firms," sniffs this American lawyer, who laments that he's often the last guy at the office and the only one on weekends.
Ah, we should all be forced to adopt such indolent ways.

July 14, 2016

Mummy Dearest

May-Leadsom-Article-201607121252It's been way too long since I've written about Mommy Wars. Thank goodness our sisters across The Pond are giving me an excuse to wade into one of my favorite subjects.

In case you missed it: Britain, in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, is about to get a new prime minister. And two women—energy minister Andrea Leadsom and home secretary Theresa May—emerged as the top contenders.

Women in the lead to run the U.K. is awesome, but then Leadsom tried to get points by playing the mommy card. A mother of three, Leadsom essentially said motherhood makes her the better choice in comparison to May, who's childless. Leadsom told The Times of London:

I am sure [May] will be really sad she doesn't have children so I don't want this to be "Andrea has children, Theresa hasn't" because I think that would be really horrible. But genuinely I feel being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake. She possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people. But I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next.

There you go: Women who multiply are superior. You can have impressive credentials, fabulous work experience, amazing management skills and the ideal temperament but if you're not a mom, you're not quite the total package.

To call Leadsom's remarks retro and smug would be kind. Thankfully, the reaction to Leadsom's comments was swift and furious. Facing an outpouring of condemnation (even by her conservative colleagues), Leadsom quickly apologized to May and exited the race, citing the destabilizing effect that a drawn-out contest would create. May is expected to become prime minister when David Cameron resigns.

Leadsom’s comments about motherhood were a bid to win points through a tired refrain. The chant goes like this: Moms are more emphatic, more vested, more attuned, more nurturing, more patient—just more. And if you don't believe this, you're probably not a mom. Of course, some of the mom-praise is just a pep rally cry, but there's also the subtext that childless women are unnatural or pitiful.

Take, for instance, the way we tend to scrutinize female leaders. We might praise their professional achievements, but we judge them by what's going in their personal lives. Remember the lament about how two of the three female justices on the Supreme Court are unmarried and childless, and what a sad state of affairs that reflected? Maybe Justices Kagan and Sotomayor's personal lives are off the table now, but I still sense that childless women are viewed as something a bit strange. You see this in law firms where younger women will tell me that they don't regard some of the female partners as role models because they live sad lives without children.

What all this suggests to me is that motherhood still defines women's mission in life—even when the job has nothing to do with being a procreator.

Guess we haven't evolved as much as we fancy.


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

My Other Accounts

Google Plus
Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 03/2010