Law Professors

Law Prof Decries ‘Beauty Bias’ and Killer Shoes, Suggests Legal Remedies for the Former


A wealth of studies show attractive people are viewed as likable, intelligent and good, and the “beauty bias” apparently extends to the legal profession, a law professor says.

Writing for the National Law Journal, Stanford University law professor Deborah Rhode cites a famous study that found attractiveness may account for as much as a 12 percent difference in attorneys’ earnings.

Rhode points to a law firm “teaching moment” on the appearance bias issue—a decision by the Skadden Insider blog to suspend its hottest male associate contest two years ago after a critical memo from an of counsel at the firm. The blog had already crowned its hottest female associate.

Rhode has written a book called The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law. She argues in the NLJ that appearance bias carries many costs and falls disproportionately on women, who are judged more harshly for being overweight and showing their age. Similarly, racial and ethnic minorities with darker skin and less “Anglo” features face more workplace bias, she says.

“Our preoccupation with appearance also carries other costs,” Rhode writes. “Americans spend more money on beauty than social services, and much of the expenditure falls short of its intended effects. Intelligent professionals squander billions of dollars on unsuccessful weight-loss products and what dermatologists label ‘cosmetic hoo hah.’ Almost four-fifths of American women suffer foot or back problems largely related to what we described in high school as ‘killer’ shoes. Some of the nation’s most distinguished female lawyers are literally hobbled by their footwear.”

Rhode says law may help fight such bias. One state and six local jurisdictions ban some forms of appearance discrimination, she says, and there has been no resulting “barrage of loony litigation.”

The Am Law Daily’s new Careerist column noted Rhode’s article, but added its own commentary. “Let’s be honest, law has never been a profession known for good looks, whether among male or female attorneys,” the Careerist says. “In a perverse way, law is more of a meritocracy than many other professions.”

Related coverage:

Christian Science Monitor: “The Beauty Bias”

ABAJournal.com: “Study Finds ‘Unattractive Harshness Effect’ for Uglier Defendants”

Cornell Daily Sun: “Larger Breasts Pay Off for Waitresses, Study by Hotel Professor Finds”

Updated to add coverage in the Christian Science Monitor at 12:05 p.m.

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