Why I am Not Making a Modest Proposal About Makeovers as Preparation for a Career as a Lawyer

I had been going to suggest that since studies show that better looking lawyers make more money, the law school should start offering third year students free makeovers and hire a dress consultant in an effort to create more rich alumni and generally happier 'customers'.

But I'm reconsidering. In light of this story in today's Daily Telegraph, I'm not at all sure it is in a lawyer's interests to look too good. It seems that the Court of Appeal in London may order a new trial after a recent fraud conviction because — two weeks after the end of the trial — the foreman (a woman) sent the prosecuting barrister (described as a happily married man) a bottle of champagne and note asking, “What does a lady need to do to attract your attention?” It could be that a lawyer can look too good for his/her own good.

My musings on this subject started with MS-NBC's silly but amusing recent “hidden camera” report 'proving' that attractive people get treated (much, much, much) better by strangers. That reminded me of the definitive study by Jeff Biddle & Daniel S. Hamermesh, Beauty, Productivity and Discrimination: Lawyers' Looks and Lucre (2000) in which they found that attractive lawyers make more money.

We propose several models in which an ascriptive characteristic generates earnings differentials and is sorted across sectors. The general approach shows how to distinguish the ultimate sources of labor-market returns to such characteristics; the specific example uses longitudinal data on a large sample of attorneys who graduated from one law school. Beauty is measured by ratings of their matriculation photographs. 1) Better-looking attorneys who graduated in the 1970s earned more after 5 years of practice than their worse- looking classmates, other things equal, an effect that grew even larger by the fifteenth year of practice. There is no impact of beauty on earnings among 1980s graduates. 2) Attorneys in the private sector are better-looking than those in the public sector, with the differences rising as workers sort across sector based on their beauty. 3) Male attorneys' probability of attaining an early partnership rises with beauty. The results support a theory of dynamic sorting and the role of customer behavior. We cannot determine whether this is because clients discriminate or because better-looking lawyers are able to obtain greater pecuniary gains for their clients.

It also reminded me of the more recent study by Daniel S. Hamermesh and Amy M. Parker, Beauty in the Classroom: Professors' Pulchritude and Putative Pedagogical Productivity (2003), which demonstrated that students give better evaluations to faculty they deem attractive — although whether this is lookist discrimination or attractive people hold their interest better, leading to more learning, remains to be worked out.

So I got to thinking that if our law school wanted to increase 'customer' satisfaction — so much the rage these days — and also engage in the sort of practical skills training that future lawyers will be able to use on a daily basis in their careers — so much the rage for the past decade or more — that what we should really do is get everyone to look and dress better. This would of course be particularly appropriate given our location, Miami being the body beautiful capital of the non-Brazilian world.

The plight of Richard Latham, QC has, however, made me rethink. The world just may not be ready for a new cadre of intelligent and impeccably turned out legal counselors.

Furthermore, whether attractive lawyers actually make more effective advocates is, as far as I can gather, unclear. Googling brought me citations to some evidence suggesting that they do not: Janet Sigal, Jane Braden-Maguire, Mark Hayden & Norman Mosley, The effect of presentation style and sex of lawyer on jury decision-making behavior, Psychology — A Quarterly Journal of Human Behavior (Autumn 1985), found that presentation style was the most important determinant of persuasiveness. Similarly, Marjorie J. Caballero, James R. Lumpkin, Charles S. Madelen, Using Physical Attractiveness as an advertising tool: An empirical test of the attraction phenomenon, Journal of Advertising Research (Aug.-Sept. 1989) found that looks didn't affect sales much, but gender did (men bought more from men, women from women). But I haven't read the actual articles so I can't speak to how attractive their arguments are.

Perhaps, therefore, in light of the Hamermesh & Parker study we should just offer the free makeovers to the faculty? Not that my colleagues don't look good already or get great teaching evaluations, but every little bit we can do to increase student happiness and raise that US News rating…

Then again, maybe it's a bad idea all around. We don't, after all, want either champagne or romantic notes from our students—just great Blue Books.

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