The Kind of Satire That Often Isn’t Funny: David Lat’s “Hottest ERISA Lawyer in America” Contest

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David Lat, at his new blog Above The Law, is holding a contest “to find the hottest ERISA lawyer in America.” Here is an excerpt from the announcement post:

Turn on those digital cameras, fire up those email accounts, and send in your submissions (subject line: “ERISA Hottie”). We’ll accept nominations until — eh, until whenever we feel like it, depending on the response rate.* Assuming we receive enough nominees of both genders, the men and women will compete in separate categories.

After this competition, you’ll never think of ERISA the same way again. The next time you hear the words “ERISA preemption,” instead of getting sleepy, you’ll get turned on…

To all who seek the title of America’s Hottest ERISA Lawyer: GOOD LUCK!

* We realize there is a distinct possibility that we will end up with zero nominees for this hotties contest. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

What exactly is being satirized here? A commenter asserts that it is “beauty contests.” Which of course are typically open only to women. One can always get a lot of laughs out of mocking things associated with women. Or is the point to make fun of people who practice a type of law that sounds kind of “unsexy”? An update by Lat explains:

We’re pleased to report that, based on the nominees you have submitted to date, we already have enough entrants for a respectable contest. Should Karl Lindman and Natalia Vodianova be worried about their jobs? Not just yet. But we do think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by some of the field.

One request: Please send us more female nominees. Right now the male side of the field is much stronger, in both quality and quantity, than the female side. Men suck up a disproportionate award of the legal profession’s top honors (e.g., Supreme Court clerkships). Must they also dominate the ranks of America’s hottest pension lawyers?

And one piece of advice: Please try not to let your favorite ERISA hottie know that you’re nominating him or her. One very promising candidate had to be withdrawn after the nominator, under pressure from the nominee, withdrew the original nomination. So just let your favorite hottie be surprised by the honor. It’s more fun that way!

Note: While we will honor requests to withdraw nominations from the original nominators, we will not honor such requests from nominees themselves. The nominees themselves have no standing to challenge their inclusion. Also, we follow an “independent source” rule: if a nominee is withdrawn at Nominator A’s request, but then is nominated again by Nominator B, the nominee is placed back in the competition.

Karl Lindman and Natalia Vodianova, in case you didn’t know, are fashion models, suggesting “hotness” in this contest is related to phyiscal attractiveness. That being the case, it’s easy to understand why women might prefer not to participate. Possibly Lat doesn’t understand that being celebrated for her looks is not known for being a ticket to career success in the legal world for a female attorney.

The idea that people are now going to be nominated without their knowledge, and that Lat will not honor their requests for withdrawl if they do find out, frankly strikes me as both mean and sickening. I was present when a hard driving female attorney won a satirical “Miss Congeniality” designation during a “jokey” awards luncheon, and I watched her muster a tight little smile as she accepted a sash and tiara to a sea of derisive laughter, and I saw her crying in the bathroom later, too. I have little doubt that certain kinds of lawyers will take a golden opportunity like this to try to heap ridicule upon colleagues or competitors they dislike, or want to see put in their place. But who cares, as long as Lat is amusing himself and his buds, right?

–Ann Bartow

Update: Feminist Law Prof Tracy McGaugh mentions via e-mail that Above the Law is featuring a “stupid lawsuit” post about an elderly woman who was being harassed by a young male neighbor, and notes that it’s unfortunate that Lat thinks such harassment is so hilarious. She says she knew when she saw the word “meow” that a woman was somehow the butt of this joke. I would add that the final two lines of the post are particularly telling:

Get a grip, Alex. Would you prefer that he bark at you?

Old. People. So. Crazy.

Lat seems unaware of the fact that elderly women are frequently targets of sexual harassment at work, because if they complain, no one believes them. They are old – who could possibly want to have sex with them?

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