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The Careerist Looks Back at a Weird Year

Vivia Chen

December 28, 2020

What a tense, absurd year this has been. I started 2020 innocently, chronicling the usual foibles of Big Law. But then COVID-19 hit, followed by George Floyd’s murder, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, the hurried appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett and the presidential election. Each of those events was draining, often coloring what I wrote. Here are my most-talked-about posts for 2020:

1. Posts that infuriated women: The two Amys. My series on Amy Cooper, the white dog-walker who falsely accused a Black man of assault in Central Park, and Amy Coney Barrett pressed the buttons of liberal and conservative women.

My first post on Cooper was about how some white female lawyers were worried that Cooper evoked misogynistic stereotypes. To my shock, some readers responded by lauding Cooper for standing up to a man (she refused the Black bird-watcher’s request to leash her dog). Those comments sparked another post, in which I wrote: “Amy Cooper is not the wrongdoer. She’s the victim—and a feminist heroine to boot! Who would have thunk that?” Obviously, I said that in jest, but some folks took me literally, accusing me of holding her up as a role model.

Speaking of literal readings, I got praise from a right-leaning reader and criticism from a lefty with my post, “ 5 Career Tips I Got From Amy Coney Barrett.” (Among the tips: “ wear pink” and “act like a Girl Scout.”) One Barrett fan wrote that she loves pink and thanked me for praising the new justice’s style. But a liberal lawyer decried what she called a “flip and thoughtless take on a highly consequential nominee,” questioning whether I was “gleeful” that women’s rights will be destroyed.

Lordy. Lordy. I know folks are super touchy these days, but that’s precisely why we shouldn’t take things so seriously. Please, let’s not lose our sense of irony.

2. Posts dreaded by firms: My lists of firms that are failing women and Black partnersI’m always stunned at the cries of unfairness about the way I out firms with lousy records on female and minority equity partners. Often, the firmsplaining goes something like this: We’re making amazing strides with women and minorities, but you don’t get it. Or: Am Law’s definition of equity partner is too rigid (the “don’t focus on compensation” argument). As I say, I’m not the problem—it’s your firm’s abysmal record that needs fixing.

3. Post that showed partners will be partners, pandemic or not: “This Isn’t a Gravy Train.” Thank goodness for squealers for keeping it real. That’s how I got hold of a memo by Kirkland & Ellis partner Andy Calder, who warned associates in April that they better keep on billing: “I am seeing a ton of money being left on the table on the matters coming in and I have seen all of your hours today. … This isn’t a gravy train where you can just chill and be along for the ride.”

4. My saddest post for the year: “I’d Rather Have a Straight, White Dude on the Supreme Court.” It’s heart-wrenching for many of us that RBG has been replaced by a woman whose mission is to dismantle women’s rights, piece by piece. I exhorted President Trump: “Because if you’re going to take away my rights and those of my daughters, it’d be far more honest (and less hurtful) if you let a man do the dirty work.”

5. My darkest post for the year: “Does the Am Law 100 Even Matter Right Now? In early April, just as COVID-19 was sweeping New York, I wrote about the uncertainty ahead: “I don’t know which of my friends, family members or colleagues will get COVID-19. I don’t know if I will be among those stricken.” At the time, the Am Law 100 was being unveiled, which, against the backdrop of the pandemic, suddenly seemed “small, trivial and beside the point.”

I learned around that time my favorite elevator man at my apartment building had died of COVID-19. New York felt bleak and morbid. My despair must have been apparent, because a life and career coach offered me free therapy.

And speaking of readers: Keep those comments flowing. While I’m buoyed by positive feedback, often it’s the negative kind that is most intriguing. This gem from a disgruntled reader made me chuckle: “Your stupid.”

Email: vchen@alm.com. On Twitter: @lawcareerist


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Vivia, everything you write is worth reading. When you can make everyone on each side of the aisle mad once in a while, you know you are on the right track. Also, why is it so many people lack any sense of humor, irony, understanding of sarcasm, etc, these days? Happy New Year and I will buy you a wine in New York the next time I am up there (my daughter lives there - politically correct but with a sense of humor).

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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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