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If lawyers lack looks, lucre lags.

Better-looking attorneys earn more than their worse-looking colleagues, according to Daniel Hamermesh, a University of Texas at Austin economics professor who is studying the relationship between beauty and earnings among lawyers. Moreover, attorneys in the private sector are better looking than those in the public sector. "Lawyers who are good looking in the public sector tend to switch to the private firms to take advantage of their good looks and vice versa."

Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle of Michigan State University found that an increase in attractiveness ups the probability of early partnership in law firms for men, while the results for women revealed one of the few significant differences in the effect of beauty by sex. Greater attractiveness among women lowers their chances of early partnership. "The good-looking woman is apparently penalized in this business," Hamermesh points out.

The researchers studied a large sample of attorneys who graduated from one law school. Beauty was measured by ratings of their first-year law school photographs on a scale from strikingly handsome or beautiful; above-average attractiveness; average; plain, below average in attractiveness; or homely, far below average in attractiveness. Because some of the photos were as much as 25 years old, the raters were instructed to make allowances for the fact that styles and fashions may have changed. More than 4,400 photographs were evaluated.

Hamermesh and Biddle concluded that better-looking attorneys who graduated in the 1970s earned more after five years of practice than their worse--looking classmates, other things being equal, an effect that grew larger by the 15th year of practice. There didn't appear to be any difference in earnings among the good-looking and bad-looking lawyers who graduated in the 1980s, Hamermesh notes. "The legal labor market was so tight in the 1980s that law firms couldn't discriminate against bad-looking attorneys."

The researchers also looked into the reasons why beauty plays an important role in this particular labor market. "First of all, those who hire and promote lawyers may prefer to be surrounded by better-looking colleagues and subordinates, although this does not appear consistent with the data in the study. Second, there may be true consumer discrimination, clients preferring better-looking lawyers solely because of the enjoyment of spending time with them.... Finally, clients may prefer better-looking lawyers because their beauty is in itself productive for the consumer." There already is considerable evidence that people find more attractive communicators more persuasive than unattractive ones.
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Title Annotation:Univ of Texas at Austin professor Daniel Hamermesh claims that attractive-looking attorneys earn more than unattractive attorneys
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Apr 1, 1996
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