Issues,  Legal Practice

Drawing the Line: Pushing Back Against Problematic Standards in the Law

Of the million and one things that were incredibly wrong with the Kavanaugh confirmations, one of the stories that jumped out at me was a story involving Amy Chua. Chua, of Tiger Mom fame, is a Yale Law School Professor and is um, well, somewhat problematic, to say the least. The story that made the rounds detailed how Chua allegedly instructed women law students on how to dress and style themselves to please Kavanaugh because he liked his clerks to look “a certain way.”  She denies this, but many people have heard similar advice in their own school settings.

And so this type of advice does happens to various extents–that is not unique. I distinctly remember attending my trial competition info sessions as a 1L and hearing upper classmen encouraging us to wear a black skirt suit, white button up top, hair pulled back, modest shoes. I did not follow that advice. I also I did not make the trial team (not just b/c of what I did/didn’t wear).

It’s a good thing for those of us that have been through this process and know what the standards and norms are to expose and explain them to people who are new so you can make a decision with all the knowledge you require about how you will proceed. And I also think it’s good to encourage people to follow certain standards/norms just enough in order to advance their career. I mean, hello this blog.

But what is not ok is for us to promote/support garbage people in higher positions of power. The problem with the alleged Chua behavior is that it is not based on helping students/younger professionals advance, but rather in controlling/manipulating young talent to meet a man’s incredibly sexist standards. Imagine the difference she could have made (if this story is true) if instead of sending students to a potentially hostile work environment she used her power as Yale professor to call out bad behavior… (again, she denies this has happened).

I know it’s easy to think that we’d never do that. But the thing is, it’s so easy to buy into the idea that the standards and norms set by those in power are true and correct. So you have to be vigilant when you’re offering advice (or being given advice) about why you’re encouraging someone to do something. Is it because you really think it will help their career or are you wanting them to please someone/something else? Don’t let yourself be seduced by power (or by proximity to power) that you continue to advance garbage ideas or support garbage people.

Instead, when you find yourself with the ability to help others’ career paths, ask yourself what power do I have to make change? What is one problem I can try to correct that pushes back against these racist/sexist standards so prevalent in our profession so that newer attorneys/students don’t have to follow them? Then do it.


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