Around these parts there is a wonderfully talented and very pretty female lawyer who is in her late twenties. She is brilliant, she writes well, she speaks eloquently, she is zealous but not overly so, she is always prepared, she treats others, including her opponents, with civility and respect, she wears very short skirts and shows lots of her ample chest. I especially appreciate the last two attributes.
Welcome back, Judge Richard Kopf!
His Tuesday blog post on courtroom attire managed to both make a lot of women angry and nod their head in agreement at the same time. If you don't recall, the wonderfully talented writer Judge Kopf hung up his keyboard in January, stating that he had nothing left to say. Earlier this month, he returned with bad news (a diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma) and began writing again, mostly about his treatment.
And then yesterday happened. In a post titled "On being a dirty old man and how young women lawyers dress," he noted that yes, he does notice. But the court's female clerks also notice, and they gossip and label the offender with some not-so-nice adjectives. His frank, hyperbolic, and politically incorrect tone, however, pissed off a lot of people who are concerned that, gasp, a judge noticed her figure, rack, chest, (pick one yourself, I am trying not to also piss off my editor) and wrote about it!
His Actual Point: Dress Professionally
This really is the topic of the month, isn't it? When a (female) Loyola Law official sent a condescending memo to students about how women should dress, it irritated a lot of people, my fellow writer Gabriella included. Here was her point:
Much of the "how you dress" debate lies in large part on generational issues. And, so long as you have (mostly) white, male judges on the bench who think that women should wear skirts and panty hose -- guess what? That's what you should wear. Does that make me, or you, any less feminist? No, it makes us want to win our cases on the merits, not lose them because the judge couldn't get past the fact that our suits have pants.
And what was (white, male) Judge Kopf's point? Pretty much the same thing -- dress so that people notice you for your legal talents, because "dirty old male[s]" and female clerks alike will notice if you don't. Here were his three rules:
1. You can't win. Men are both pigs and prudes. Get over it.
2. It is not about you. That goes double when you are appearing in front of a jury.
3. Think about the female law clerks. If they are likely to label you, like Jane Curtin, an ignorant slut behind your back, tone it down.
His Method: Hyperbole
Yesterday, after the Internet exploded, he posted a "post-script," clarifying his intent and methods:
If, on balance, you think the post was harmful to the image of the federal judiciary and truly treated women as objects, I am very, very, very sorry for that, but I would ask you to pause and reread it. I hope you will find upon objective reflection that the mockery I make of myself and the hyperbole and somewhat mordant tone I employed, made a point worth considering.
In the rough and tumble world of a federal trial practice, it is sometimes necessary to see and react to that world as it is rather than as we wish it would be.
Hyperbole. It's one of my favorite stylistic methods. When done well, it uses exaggeration to make a point better than timid, toned-down language ever will. Which of these is more impactful:
- The court's opinion is bad for defendants.
- The court's opinion is devastating for defendants' rights.
If Kopf had merely said "sometimes women dress inappropriately and it distracts me and my female clerks," the piece would not have been nearly as effective. (Also, in case you were wondering, the "female lawyer" in the story was a composite character.)
A local newspaper columnist said "Ewwww!" She then surveyed reactions, which were mixed but mostly agreed with his point.
Jezebel said, "It's embarrassing that this guy is a f**king federal judge," but "[b]uried within the lecherous and paternalistic tone is a fair point."
Staci, at Above the Law, admitted that he had a good point, though noted that he could've used more delicate language.
See, this is why I stayed out of the topic of the month. If you tell a man that he looks stupid because his suit jacket is too tight, his cuffs are poking out, and his neon orange tie looks like it was stolen from a dead clown, he will not be grateful, even if it's good advice. And if you tell a woman that her legs are distracting from her brilliantly persuasive closing argument, she will also not be grateful. People can't handle criticism, especially in the wardrobe department, and when you use hyperbole and frank language ... the Internet explodes.
Quick post-script: Judge Kopf, we wish you well in your treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma. And please, please, keep blogging.
- Judge Kopf Causes a Stir With Blog Post About Female Lawyers (Wall Street Journal)
- Clifford Chance's Sexist Memo Was 'Unintentional.' So There. (FindLaw's Greedy Associates Blog)
- 4 Ideas: How Women Can Be Liked AND Successful (FindLaw's Greedy Associates Blog)