Today the American Bar Association’s online news site brings us a hard-hitting piece of journalism on . . . . women’s hair.

Well, not just any women’s hair, thank goodness. The ABA has not transformed overnight into an In Style knock off.


In an article entitled, “Is Long Hair a Bad Choice for Older Career Women,” Debra Cassens Weiss suggests that women over forty who wear their hair long “are making a mistake.”

Admittedly Weiss is quoting from a post at The Careerist, an American Lawyer Media site featuring today, directly beneath the hair post, an article called “Corporate Lawyer Pens Cookbook About Weeds.” Weiss goes on to quote the author of The Careerist hair piece, writing that Hillary Clinton’s hair has been “growing like an unruly potted plant” and that she looks “haggard and rumpled.” According to Weiss, The Careerist spoke with “a California entertainment lawyer and a law firm consultant” for further information. The lawyer – who, for the love of God, should be outed and immediately shunned – said that for older women, “[e]ven if the hair is long, glossy, and well-maintained, the juxtaposition of aging or—to be politically correct—’mature’ facial features and youthful hairstyle doesn’t work[.]”

Yes, Weiss is only highlighting a post featured in another online publication. But Weiss is also writing for the American Bar Association. And she should know better.

I’d be less thoroughly pissed off if Weiss offered some response to this ludicrously vapid piece of reporting. Surely there is someone out there capable of offering a more reasoned commentary on the current Secretary of State for the United States than that her hair has gone vegetative. But if there is, the ABA is not interested in finding him or her. He or she will remain, alas, forever unquoted.

And I point this out because it follows rather closely on the heels of another, admittedly more local, journalistic gaffe here in Maryland. Last week, the local legal paper, The Maryland Daily Record, published a piece on its online blog, On The Record, which discussed opportunities for women on the bench. I can’t link to the article itself because it has been summarily pulled from the site in response to a wave of criticism from women lawyers and judges, and to the paper’s credit it has since apologized. The objectionable material included the use of a photo of the Spice Girls. I am fairly certain – but correct me if I’m wrong, certainly – that if United States Magistrate Judge Paul W. Grimm is formally elevated to the bench of the United States District Court for Maryland, the Daily Record will not illustrate its coverage of the event with a photograph of Justin Beiber.

I attended a bar association meeting recently and the Spice Girls conundrum was the topic of conversation in a way it really hasn’t been since Posh became Victoria Beckham. And one of the points I heard made repeatedly was that there is a real disconnect between older women lawyers and their younger, Gen Y counterparts when it comes to issues like these. The author of the Spice Girls post appears to be a member of the Gen Y camp. And she is not a lawyer, although she wrote her article under the Maryland Daily Record masthead, so presumably she had some oversight. I have heard some calling for “sensitivity training” for younger women, as if to be a woman demanding respectful treatment is to have a disability. Sensitivity isn’t really the issue. Real world experience, and familiarity with history, is.

Perhaps these younger women have never experienced the pleasure of appearing at opposing counsel’s office for a deposition, only to be invited to set up their court reporting equipment in the conference room. Or of being called “sweetheart” or “hon” (an old Baltimore favorite) or “babe.” But I worry that in fact they have, and that instead of being taken aback they take it in stride. As if being condescended to is a cost of doing business as a female.

Is it? Should it be?

Is there a point at which the members of a traditionally disadvantaged class are expected to put down their weapons – assuming they ever wielded any to begin with – and make nice? Is that what is happening here?

I contemplated closing this post with a reference to the Lady Gaga song, “Hair,” in which she chants repeatedly that she is “as free as [her] hair.” And that would be cute, possibly, and would give me the opportunity to include a Lady Gaga picture, which might just drive some traffic to this page. And screw that, because the willingness to do and say anything in the name of driving traffic is quite possibly a major part of the heretofore described disconnect. Attention is not self-justifying.

I sincerely hope that in the race to appear on the first page of Google, we are not sacrificing what we learned in other, older, and less virtual contexts.

The Careerist blog currently features a photo of a woman in a cage to illustrate a post about why women don’t advance to ownership status in law firms.  

While I agree that women do not make up a fair percentage of the equity partner ranks, I disagree that flex time and diversity initiatives and increased mentoring are going to fix the problem.  The problem lies with the way firms are structured and with the way they make money.  It isn’t feasible economically to move women up if they aren’t billing what their male counterparts are.  This means that the solution is one of two things: either women, in large enough numbers, will make the sacrifices necessary to bill a lot, to form client relationships, and to ascend; or firms will find a way to profitably advance the interests of female associates.  The second option will require significant changes in law firm culture and business structure.  The fact that clients may insist that matters be diversely staffed is meaningless; businesses of all kinds have employed tokens for decades to head off gender and race issues. 

Internal change will occur when the billable hour makes way for alternative billing arrangements based on delivery of value, but that change will not be initially positive for women.  Firms will probably slough off associates by the hundreds, and that will affect women (and probably racial minorities) disproportionately.  There will probably be a few more Howreys.  Firms will need to become leaner and smaller, and the process will be painful.  I believe that the greatest hope for female advancement lies with the trend towards smaller, boutique firms, many of which will be founded by former BigLaw partners in the coming years.  These boutiques will feel downward pressure from clients to hire women, and it is much more difficult for smaller firms to “up and out” associates.  The cost of attrition is too high.  Women who perform well in those environments should expect to advance to ownership in good numbers. 

All of this assumes a smaller associate workforce, though, as orphans from the prior few years transition out of law entirely and as law school class sizes shrink.  The current associate workforce is not sustainable under an alternative fee system.  If class sizes remain stagnant – which they could, since student loans are non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, so lenders and schools have no real incentive to cut back – we stand to see a glut of youngish lawyers on the market competing for limited job opportunities.  That picture is not appealing from a diversity perspective.  Or any perspective, really. 

I think the legal industry is poised on the edge of a precipice.  The question is how Icarus-like we choose to be going forward.  Law schools must make employment statistics more transparent.  Applicants have a right to know that ten percent of a school’s “employed” grads are actually working as legal secretaries or worse.  Some sort of initiative must be taken to address the problem of outstanding student loans.  Unlike mortgages, student loans are not dischargeable; law graduates who might otherwise move to a more efficient employment market are unable to do so because of pressure to meet their loan payments.  The need to hire the best and brightest graduates, in turn, places pressure on firms to increase their hourly rates.  The whole system is fractured at its core.   And the one entity that could take a fairly effective crack at fixing it is in serious denial about the whole thing. 

If you agree, don’t pay your dues next year.  I don’t think I will be.