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Are You as Mean as Amy Klobuchar?

Vivia Chen

February 13, 2019

Ext

Here we go again. Another female leader has been revealed for what she really is—and you guessed it: She’s a bitch!

That sort of summarizes the news that accompanied (and eclipsed) Amy Klobuchar’s recent announcement that she’s running for the president of the United States.

In case you missed it, the backstory is this: Klobuchar is reputed to be a mean boss. Just a day or so before her announcement, BuzzFeed reported: “The Minnesota Democrat ran a workplace controlled by fear, anger, and shame.” Not only did she scream at staffers, she once threw a binder that hit an aide. (BuzzFeed said she wasn’t aiming at the staffer.) And her reign of terror didn’t stop at the end of the workday. In emails sent between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., “ Klobuchar regularly berated employees, often in all capital letters, over minor mistakes, misunderstandings, and misplaced commas.”

Before I go further, may I just say that she’d fit in just fine at a lot of law firms? Maybe firms wouldn’t want partners throwing things at people for liability reasons, but berating underlings over minor mistakes? Hey, isn’t that called associate training? (Klobuchar, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, was a partner at Dorsey & Whitney and Gray Plant Mooty.)

Maybe those of us who’ve worked in law firms are hardier souls, but now pundits on the left and the right are questioning Klobuchar’s fitness as a potential leader of the free world. The National Review has a piece called “Why It Matters If Amy Klobuchar Is An Abusive Boss,” while Vanity Fair ran a post that compared her to you-know-who, “ Terrified Aides Say Amy Klobuchar Is Just Like Trump.”

Meanwhile, Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg Opinion writes with earnestness: “Inability to manage a staff would be a real problem for any president. It can yield heavy turnover, excessive leaks that make the president look bad, and lower-quality personnel in the White House and perhaps across the executive branch.”

Oh, puh-leeze, what’s up with these Trump analogies?

As bad-tempered and volatile as Klobuchar might be to her staff, there’s no indication that she’s not a rational thinker when it counts. In fact, if you look at her performance at the confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh, she came across as extraordinarily measured and well-reasoned. Maybe she is a terror in private, but at least she can keep it together in public.

So is all this criticism that she’s facing a matter of sexism? Well, there’s undoubtedly that element. As every schoolchild knows by now, we expect female leaders to be likable. What’s more, there’s an expectation that they be nicer. According to a study on women and leadership by Pew Research Center, most people say that they believe female leaders are more compassionate and empathetic than male ones.

But I don’t believe it’s just sexism that’s getting Klobuchar into trouble. She seems to be irritating people because she projects this wholesome, folksy image when the suspected reality is that she’s a jerk. As Dan McLaughlin writes in National Review, all these stories “suggest that her public persona is a phony.” It’s as if all of a sudden we found out that our favorite Midwestern aunt was a serial killer.

So instead of “Minnesota Nice,” Klobuchar is actually “Minnesota Mean.” Ultimately, she may be two-faced—like 99 percent of politicians and, I’m sorry to say, a lot of successful people.

I could be totally wrong, but I think in a strange way that patina of meanness might end up serving her well. It adds a layer of complexity and excitement to her character that balances out her Midwestern blandness.

Which is all to say: You can project what you want onto these accusations about Klobuchar. Sure, some will be disappointed that she’s not quite the salt-of-the-earth that she projects in public. And, hell, from what I know, I wouldn’t want to work for her.

But at the end of the day, who cares?

 

vchen@alm.com

Twitter: @lawcareerist.

Comments

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I agree with you. Law partners are generally permitted to be mean and associates learn to take it. It goes with the territory. I wouldn't want them to be president. Then again, I think that this administration has caused a lot of us to re-evaluate our prior presidential exclusion factors...

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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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