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How I Infuriate My Dear Readers

Vivia Chen

January 8, 2020

Most publications herald their most popular or beloved articles for the year. But how boring is that?

Despite what you might think, I’m not always the darling of women and progressives. At some point or another, I manage to annoy everyone—something that I take pride in. What’s the fun of being a columnist if I’m not pushing people’s buttons?

So here are my posts from 2019 that sparked anger, outrage and (hopefully) discussion:

Posts that annoyed white men: My series on new black partners. Who would have thought that pointing out the dearth of black partners in last year’s class would be controversial? (In 2019, I launched a unicorn watch for new black partners and wrote a bunch of posts highlighting the challenges they face, including the scarcity of new black partners at Kirkland & Ellis and Davis Polk & Wardwell’s curious handling of a black associate.)

Mostly, I got supportive letters about my coverage, but not everyone was a fan. Some took it as an act of hostility, targeting the white male establishment.

“I have to tell you that I found your article to be offensive, mean-spirited and a bit nasty,” wrote one lawyer about my post “Am Law Firms With Zero Black Partners—How Is This Possible in 2019?” While this reader said he’d “love to see a world where no lawyer is discriminated against on the basis of skin color, creed, nationality, religious beliefs and sexual orientation,” he objected to the “tone” of my post.

Another reader complained: “It is sad and disappointing that a legal newspaper would publish articles by Vivia Chen. Her obsession with ‘white privilege’ and constant demonization of white men is repugnant.” He added, “she demonstrates classic ‘racism,’ namely, judging a person on the basis of skin color, as well as gender.”

Post that annoyed women: Amal Clooney—Too Beautiful to Be a Serious Lawyer?” Woe to anyone who dares to comment about women’s looks these days! I learned that lesson when I wrote about the glam Mrs. George Clooney, who happens to be both a high-profile human rights lawyer and a gorgeous woman.

We all know the beauty bias is a real thing, but somehow we’re not supposed to talk about it. Anyway, I got grief from women who told me I was being offensive for writing about Clooney’s looks and how they might affect her credibility. “ Should she ‘uglify’ herself?” asked a reader. “To write about this topic only perpetuates primitive beliefs, which reflect the misogyny of the ancients that persists until today.”

Post that annoyed older lawyers: My take on Joe Biden. The backstory is this: I wasn’t impressed with Biden’s (extremely) belated apology to Anita Hill earlier this year about how he mishandled testimony supporting Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings. In my post, “Joe Biden Is Everyman—and That’s the Problem,” I wrote, “I’m done with looking up to old white men.”

In response, a 76-year-old civil rights lawyer accused me of ageism. “Hope you are never in a position to be sued for age and race discrimination because above sentence fragment will be used against you,” wrote this lawyer. “And it should be.”

Posts that annoyed social progressives: Take a Long Parental Leave and Make Partner? Dream On, Baby.

I don’t buy any of that stuff about how firms care about their troops and want everyone to lead healthy, well-balanced lives. So, naturally, I’m cynical that some firms are hyping how associates can take extended parental leave and still stay on the partnership track. As I wrote: “Firms want to make moolah. And if you’re costing them moolah, you better move it.”

One lawyer told me: “Your attitude is the problem. So long as people like you keep telling people that it’ll hurt their careers to take extended family leaves, law firms will put billings ahead of people. You’re not helping. You’re just speaking for the status quo.”

Post that angered both the left and the right: Sympathy for the Devil: That DOJ Lawyer Who Denied Kids Soap. I expected blowback from liberals for my “defense” of DOJ lawyer Sarah Fabian (and ex-Kirkland & Ellis associate)—and indeed I got just that.

Among other things, readers called my position “indefensible,” “repugnant” and “idiotic.” (I wrote that Fabian seemed “uncomfortable” when she defended the administration’s treatment of immigrant children in court. Instead of making her the object of scorn, I argued that her boss, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, should be blamed.)

But some conservatives didn’t like what I wrote either.

One Trump supporter accused me of tacitly criticizing Barr. “Referring to Barr as the 'puppeteer' felt like a thinly veiled jab at his ability to coldly manipulate every DOJ lawyer, not exactly a compliment.” This reader continued: “I feel like you used ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ as a voice for your personal political views and not an objective look at a relevant event.”

He’s right on most of those points: It was a jab at Barr. And yes, I’m not pretending to be objective. Yo, isn’t that obvious?

Email: vchen@alm.com

On Twitter: @lawcareerist




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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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