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What Infuriated and Amused Readers in 2021

Dec. 29, 2021, 3:02 PM

As an opinion columnist, I expect to get under people’s skin. If I’m not getting a modicum of angry mail in my inbox, I start to worry that I’m not doing my job.

Thankfully, my columns this year sparked all sorts of readers’ reactions: outrage, annoyance, and frustration. And, yes, I got plenty of nice comments too. So long as I’m fomenting discussion, I’m fine with reactions on both extremes.

So here’s a taste of what readers had to say in 2021.

What Triggered White Men?

In Why U.S. News & World Report Failed Diversity 101, I posited: “We should stop putting old White men in charge of decisions about diversity.” I was writing about the publication’s curious omission of Asians in its aborted attempt to rank law schools by diversity, which, as it turned out, was shepherded by an older White man.

Older, White male lawyers reacted swiftly: “Your comment that ‘old White men’ should not be put in charge of decisions about diversity was quite racist,” sniffed a lawyer in Wisconsin, adding, “It was also nice that you threw in a bit of ageism as well.” And a lawyer in Indiana who signed his missive, “Old White Man,” wrote: “This is one time you should have remained filtered.”

But some older White men took my side: “No one should have so much influence over a complex enterprise,” wrote Michael Olivas, professor emeritus at the University of Houston Law Center, about Robert Morse, the chieftain of academic rankings at U.S. News. “And when [Morse] screws up or gets it so cluelessly wrong, he needs to own it, not pull the Caucasian Cloak over his empire.”

What Triggered White Women?

In Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes Plays the Privileged White Female Card, I queried: “Could a young woman of color assume the role of daughter to so many White men the way Holmes did?” One female reader took umbrage at the question: “Your article says a lot more about your anger and bias than it does about Elizabeth Holmes.” This woman accused me of not being fair to Holmes, “apparently because she is white,” and not giving her the benefit of a doubt, “that she might have legitimately been foolish, naive, completely unprepared to be a business executive and used by an older, far more cynical man.”

Surprisingly, male readers tend to agree with my assessment of Holmes. Not so surprising, perhaps, is that I touched a nerve with women of color. One wrote: “This case underlines blonde hair, blue eyed, thin, white female privilege. The scam Holmes perpetrated could never have been accomplished by a POC.”

What Triggered Women in General?

It’s always dangerous to wade into the waters of female ambition and motherhood in the legal profession. But I can’t help myself.

Some women lauded my column, Gibson Dunn’s New Chair Barbara Becker Dishes on Having It All, as a realistic look at what it takes to be a high-powered working mother, while others thought it was a disservice to focus on Becker’s four children and stay-at-home husband.

One female partner at a major firm said that women with “multiple kids are no longer unicorns in Big Law who can only survive if they hire nannies and have a spouse at home and sound superhuman.” She added, “I don’t want [female associates] to read an article like this and think it is practically impossible.”

And woe to me for defending a woman who was slammed by female presidents—past and current—of the American Bar Association. In There’s a New Episode of ‘Mommy Wars’ at the ABA, I defended Susan Smith Blakely’s article, Are women lawyers paying enough attention to upward mobility? Almost immediately, I was called “misogynist,” “anti-women,” and worse on social media and chat rooms. Ladies, can we just get along?

Everyone Had an Opinion About Kirkland & Ellis

Analogizing Kirkland’s expanding partnership class to Squid Games either angered or amused readers.

Several ex-Kirkland lawyers said I was “spot on.” One claimed that his experience as a non-equity partner at the firm was “more brutal” than what I described, though one can quibble if not making equity partner at Kirkland is equivalent to a death sentence.

But what amused me was a lawyer from the Midwest who accused me of being some sort of socialist for critiquing Kirkland’s system. “Are you advocating that everyone should make equity partner and that all of those partners should be paid the same regardless of their relative contribution to the success of the firm?” he asked indignantly.

What United Readers?

Disdain for a legal chieftain’s call to return to the office. Miraculously, I got wide support for my column Real Men Go Into the Office, the World According to Morgan Stanley’s GC. People of different ethnicities—male and female—all seem to agree that Eric Grossman, Morgan Stanley’s chief legal officer, was off his rocker in mandating that his outside counsel return to the office in July.

One in-house counsel, a new father, told me: “Men should step up as champions of remote work because it allows us a greater presence to share parenting and be better fathers.” A female lawyer simply said that she thinks Grossman is out of step: “If my math is right about his age, I’m not sure cell phones were even widely used during his apprenticeship.”

Finally, let me say I was especially touched by the outpouring of support I received about my first column here at Bloomberg Industry Group: A Tipping Point for Asian American Lawyers? One of the most affecting emails I got was from an Asian American father who wrote: “I have forwarded [your column] to my [three] daughters.”

Really, what more could I ask?

To contact the reporter on this story: Vivia Chen in New York at vchen@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergindustry.com