Biglaw, Hotties, Job Searches, Reader Polls

Are Attractive People Better Lawyers? An ATL Debate

legally blonde attractive lawyers.jpgWomen’s Health recently had an article about how pretty people have an advantage in this world. D’uh. In other breaking news, strong people have an advantage when it comes to beating the crap out of others.

Still, the Women’s Health article has a money quote that every lawyer — especially an unemployed lawyer — should note:

Job recruiters have come to learn that sending aesthetically pleasing candidates gets a better reaction from their clients. “I’ll write ‘This person is attractive’ on the applicant’s cover letter before passing her on,” admits a professional who does hiring in the legal field.

“Whether they admit it or not, many employers feel that having pretty female employees will reflect well on their firm.”

This seems like a good time for ATL editors to opine on hotness and career success in the law….

ELIE: Unattractive people are not a protected class, but this kind of tracking system for the attractive makes me want to puke — and not for the normal weight loss reasons.

I’m not sure when I became the spokesperson for the ugly, but do I really need to remind people that attractiveness is only skin-deep?

Besides, it’s an objective fact that ugly people work harder. First of all, they have to. Nobody hands anything to the unattractive, so they know they have to be smarter and work harder than the skinny bitch down the hall who can bat her eyes to get a pat on the back.

And while we’re here, do you know how much time it takes to vainly construct your own face (and body) until you look hot? The hair, the gym, the endless amount of time shopping for the perfect outfit to give you the appearance of natural curves you don’t have because you’re afraid to eat a damn sandwich — all of that takes time. It’s time those who can’t be bothered can spend getting to work on time, or getting some extra sleep the night before the big day, or developing social skills and a sense of humor.

But that’s okay — in the end, those who have learned to make the best of themselves notwithstanding their looks are better off than those gifted with beauty. Because the awesome thing about beauty is that Father Time rips it from you and then mocks you as he gives it to someone else. You know it. Impossibly thin 28 year-old-hottie turns into Skeletor in a couple of decades. Hope you’ve got more to your legal game then a casual toss of the hair, because when you’re so hopped up on Botox that your face no longer moves, that crap won’t fly.

If you are looking for a one-night stand, go get yourself an attractive partner. If you are looking for a reliable colleague, hire somebody who looks like they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty.

KASH: It seems clear to me that the unnamed “hiring professional” in the Women’s Health article works at Davis Polk & Wardwell. Anecdotally, I’d say that attractiveness is not a hiring criterion at most other Biglaw firms.

So Elie has put me in a rough position here. If I argue on behalf of the attractive, most readers are going to hate me. Elie, you have outsmarted me already. My consolation prize is that I’m prettier than you.

I’d like to argue that having attractive people around is better for the office environment because they’re happier people, but studies have shown that is not the case. Being hot doesn’t seem to make people any happier, perhaps because they are unhappy about being dumb.

But attractiveness does matter to others. If you’re slaving away in your office 10 hours a day, it probably doesn’t matter what you look like. You barely see other people. But if you’re frequently meeting with clients or spending any time in the courtroom, an appealing face could pay off. A strong jawline might just sway a jury.

Since most corporate types are interacting most often with people by email or phone, I’d say it’s important to hire photogenic people. As anyone who has dabbled in online dating knows, there can be a vast difference between attractiveness and photogeniality. It doesn’t really matter if you’re actually attractive these days; it only matters that those you’re emailing with (and writing for) think you’re hot.

Firms, this is a lesson for you. Don’t do your website headshots DMV-style. Help your associates out. Bring in a style consultant. Help them work the camera. Beauty is in the eye of the firm website photo beholder.

LAT: Kash, your advocacy for the attractive was a bit half-hearted. As the son of a plastic surgeon (ask for the ATL reader discount), allow me to make a more full-throated defense.

Elie seems to think that it’s the legal skills that pay the bills. That’s a naive view, especially given the current buyer’s market for legal services. Setting aside true “bet the company” matters, most matters could be handled well by any number of lawyers and law firms.

So clients choose their lawyers based on… other factors. One of these factors, like it or not, is appearance. Think about the biggest rainmakers at your firm. Most of them are of above-average attractiveness, right?

(As for exceptions to this rule, they probably handle a disproportionate number of super-high-stakes cases or transactions. This explains why my former firm, M&A powerhouse Wachtell Lipton, is not exactly a haven for hotties.)

At the end of the day, it’s all about the clients. And as power has shifted towards clients in the Great Recession, making competition for engagements more keen than ever, anything that gives you a slight edge is invaluable. Like it or not, that slight edge might sometimes be conferred by an appealing visage, C-cup breasts, or a blindingly white smile.

Aside from their advantage in attracting and retaining clients, attractive people are better to have as colleagues. If your law firm has done layoffs, ask yourself: Have the cuts disproportionately affected the less attractive?

There are several reasons why hotties make better colleagues. First, there’s the eye candy factor: they are just plain nice to look at. If you’re going to spend hundreds of hours in a windowless conference room with a colleague — and possibly hook up with this person after one too many all-nighters — wouldn’t you like him or her to be hot?

Second, attractive people have a pleasing ease and confidence to them. They don’t have the proverbial chip on the shoulder that saddles the unattractive. People like being around the beautiful for this reason (even if it can foster insecurity).

To the hotties belong the spoils. It was true in high school, and it’s true today.

Why Looks Matter [Women’s Health]

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