Since stepping out of Paris Hilton’s shadow, Kim Kardashian-West has become one of the world’s most successful reality TV personalities. According to Forbes Magazine, Mrs Kanye West has amassed a personal fortune of over $350 million US Dollars. Kardashian- West’s global business empire boasts a range of perfumes, a clothing brand, a series of books and a beauty line. Kim has also graced the covers of glossy magazines such as Elle, Vogue and Cosmopolitan, to name but a few.
Kardashian-West’s 14 years in the public eye have not always been plain sailing however. The reality star initially gained notoriety in 2007, when a so called “sex tape” depicting Kardashian and a former boyfriend, was released without her knowledge or consent. The star became tabloid fodder again in 2011 when her marriage to basketball player Kris Humphries dramatically imploded after just 72 days of wedded bliss!. This led to accusations that the wedding day, which reportedly cost a cool $10 million dollars, was little more than a cynical publicity stunt.
Most recently, the Reality TV Mogul was compelled to rename her shape enhancing underwear brand, having initially intended to trade under a name which was widely viewed as offensive to the Japanese people. The star also issued a public apology, insisting that she did not want to disrespect a culture.
Safe to say, Kim’s career in the spotlight has not been without controversy, yet arguably her most controversial career move yet, is her decision to become a lawyer. Kardashian-West revealed in the April 2019 edition of Vogue, that she plans to take the California Bar Exam in 2022.
The announcement has been welcomed by some, most notably Van Jones and Jared Kushner. Jones insists that Kim Kardashian-West played an instrumental role in securing President Donald Trump’s support for the First Step Act. This legislation will enact major prison reform in facilities across the US.
Despite Kushner and Jones seal of approval however, Kardashian-West’s decision to pursue a career in the legal profession has provoked backlash and criticism in some quarters. Julia Shapiro is an attorney and the founder and CEO of Hire an Esquire and she explains why she believes the announcement has provoked such explosive debate. “The general backlash and commentary have strong sexist overtones, whether implying or outrightly stating that Kim Kardashian-West should “stay in her lane”. Kardashian’s lane according to backlash appears to that of a vapid Barbie doll; the tenacity, creativity, strategy and general savviness that Kardashian-West has demonstrated in building her empire are consistently dismissed as accidental or handed to her for her physical appearance.”
Significantly, Kardashian-West has also shown herself to be a trail blazer. In 2007, the then Miss Kardashian proved to be ahead of her time when she took legal action against the entertainment company which distributed a “sex tape” featuring herself and a former lover. The law suit was later dropped with Kardashian reportedly receiving an undisclosed sum in the settlement.
Julia Shapiro argues that this action by Kardashian, demonstrates qualities readily applicable to the practice of law; “The actions she took in this ordeal, legally and otherwise, show why she’ll be a strategic and tenacious attorney. Society loves to shame women for their sexuality, women are supposed to bury their head in shame and hide when a sex tape is released. Instead, Kardashian fought back and ultimately turned lemons into lemonade, by continuing to strategically build her empire and brand, the extra publicity ultimately boosted her other efforts.”
Shapiro contends; “There are endless narratives and cautionary tales in our collective consciousness telling us that women should be shamed for their sexuality and only men should benefit from it. I believe part of the reason Kardashian-West strikes such a raw nerve is because she flipped this script and instead of being shamed by a male partner who was trying to use her sexuality for his own benefit, she benefited.”
Julia Shapiro insists; “On that note, Kardashian-West was not “made” by this sex tape. She was not the first and unfortunately, is unlikely to be the last, to have an intimate tape released—15 minutes of fame/ infamy does not magically turn into an empire.”
Shapiro continues, “And, she was truly ahead of her time in fighting back— today “revenge porn” laws have been enacted in 46 states and Washington D.C. in the United States. We live in a digital age and pictures and video have become a part of the way people communicate generally and intimately— we’ve seen a wide range of people from the average person with a vengeful partner to Jeff Bezos vulnerable to having intimate parts of their life exposed. Jeff Bezos also strategically fought back —and the public reaction was generally positive and he was looked at as clever and courageous and everyone has already forgotten about it. Contrast this to Kim, who also took action and has also built an empire; she is consistently framed as a vapid Barbie Doll and people are still mentioning her in tandem with a more than decade-old tape!”
In addition to Kardashian-West’s high profile celebrity, she is also in an interracial marriage with rapper Kanye West and is a proud mother to four bi-racial children. This could provide her with valuable insight to the challenges African Americans face within the criminal justice system. Julia Shapiro says, “It’s impossible to predict how people’s personal experiences will shape them and she’s not a lawyer yet so we can’t look to her actions. Data and statistics show that in the United States, people of color are treated differently in the criminal justice system, in employment, and are more likely to be victims of police brutality, and experience unique challenges as a result of racism that is baked into virtually all societal structures. With this, Parents of children of color have unique fears, such as that their child will be shot by a vigilante or police officer while going about their business. If you accept the assumption that parents generally worry about their children and feel for at least some of their children’s experience, then she would have a unique perspective that would inform her approach to justice.”
Kimber Russell who is producer of Law School Transparency’s mini-series, Women in the Law expresses similar sentiments; “With respect to having bi-racial children, this is a factor that likely spurred Kim Kardashian to take an interest in how disproportionately the legal system deals with people of color. Despite her celebrity and that of her children, there are daily news stories of people of color—celebrities of color included—who have been wrongfully targeted by police. Understanding the privilege that her wealth and privilege confers upon herself and her children is an asset when it comes to the practice of law. Her celebrity also provides her access to people in power that a typical lawyer would not necessarily be afforded, which is instrumental in pushing for change in the criminal justice system.”
Kardashian may however face unique challenges in running a number of businesses and mothering four young children, all while studying for the Bar. Kimber Russell argues, “Kim Kardashian has her own family and business empire to run, so she already has experience in juggling responsibilities like many of us who entered law school later in life. The fact that she has demonstrated an understanding of the injustice many incarcerated people have suffered and continued to suffer—especially those wrongfully convicted—and that she still prioritizes the fight to rectify this despite the trappings of her celebrity is an indication that she is taking this enterprise much more seriously than people give her credit for.”
Kardashian is also a highly successful businesswoman. Julia Shapiro considers this business savvy to be one of Kardashian Wests greatest attributes. “This is where I find her to have the most overlooked potential that has not been brought to law before. Awareness and public advocacy are extremely important for everything from getting new legislation passed, to raising funds for legal battles, and organizing. Kardashian-West’s success is far from accidental or common amongst children born into much more wealth and prominence than Kardashian. She’s demonstrated an emotional intelligence, savviness and a kind of Warholian brilliance in how she’s built her empire through engaging and cultivating public attention, and ultimately remaining relevant for over a decade in a society with a 5-second attention span. If you look at her work and success so far in criminal justice reform she’s proven her ability to bring these same skills into her legal career.”
Kimber Russell agrees; “Kim Kardashian is a very savvy and successful businesswoman and the skill set that this entails is very transferable to the practice of law: time management, attention to detail, dealing with the media. Her celebrity will be useful in bringing attention to important issues that her followers and fans might not otherwise have been exposed to.”
It seems legal prowess is in the Kardashian genes. Kim’s late father Robert, was a defence attorney to OJ Simpson during Simpson’s high profile murder trial in the mid-nineties. Some might contend that legal aptitude runs in the family, increasing the likelihood that Kim would be a successful lawyer. Kimber Russell says; “Not being a scientist, I cannot state with confidence that legal aptitude is genetic, but lawyers do run in families just like many other inter-generational family enterprises. Kim Kardashian grew up with a highly successful criminal defense attorney for a parent so she is well aware of all the challenges of this practice as well as the pitfalls. Considering the fact that she grew an international business empire, she is clearly intelligent and driven, and these are qualities that a good attorney possesses.”
Kimber Russell further argues; “Kim Kardashian has had much more exposure to the legal profession from an early age than most people in law school. She also has had first-hand experience with the type of high-profile cases that most lawyers will never get to work on. She is better positioned than most to understand exactly what being a lawyer entails and how challenging it will be.”
Due to her late father’s previous success as a lawyer, some observers view Kim as the product of a privileged background. The harshest critics protest that she isn’t really breaking the stereotype at all. Shapiro says; “If you read through the twittersphere and other online commentary, many spewing vitriol claim they’re upset about her privilege. Indeed, we need to have real conversations in America about privilege, an increasing division of wealth, and rapidly declining social mobility— but no one seems to care about this in situations when women stay in their lane or a man benefits from a family name and wealth.”
Shapiro elaborates; “In America, the number one indicator of your success as an entrepreneur is your socioeconomic status. I can assure you that knocking around the New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other startup worlds there are many heirs and heiresses with bigger family names and family wealth than Kardashian-West ever had, none of who have reached the heights of Kardashian success. With men, inherited wealth seems to enhance their image and whatever business they are attempting to build; this is often true of women too if they are “staying in their lane” and building a fashion or “femtech” business. There is a very visceral reaction to privilege when women use it to go beyond doing what society views wealthy women should do.”
It also appears that there is there a double standard whereby a male celebrity with a similar background would not face such a barrage of criticism if he choose to pursue a legal career. Julia Shapiro concurs; “Completely and strong double standard has already emerged for the impactful work she has done in criminal justice reform versus the social good efforts of somewhat similarly situated male celebrities.”
Julia Shapiro asserts; “Both George Clooney and Brad Pitt have physical appearances that are publicly accepted as a cornerstone of their career; both men have performed sex scenes—consensually. George Clooney is invited into Congress and the UN to speak on genocide and given humanitarian awards and regarded with great gravitas for his work here. I’m sure if Clooney went to law school, much of the same public criticizing Kardashian would be applauding him.”
Shapiro continues; “Contrast this to Kim Kardashian, who appears to have applied a studied, updated version of methods that helped past civil rights movements make progress to her work with Criminal Justice Reform. She executed intelligently and fastidiously to measurable positive outcomes including getting clemency for particularly egregious lifetime sentences and being oddly instrumental in the passage of the First Step Act for Criminal Justice reform. Still, everyone trashes her as if she is some kind of ditzy lawyer barbie. This public dialogue sadly mirrors what studies tell us about how women are generally perceived in the workplace as compared to their male peers.”
Arguably, to ensure its legitimacy and credibility, the legal profession should be diverse and reflective of the society it serves and protects. Kardashian-West’s decision to pursue a legal career shows that she is unapologetically breaking the mould and striving to make the profession more representative. Kardashian-West has been credited with striking blows for curvaceous women everywhere, redefining what it is to be beautiful. Similarly, in this latest venture, Kim Kardashian-West is redefining what it is to be a lawyer.
Kimber Russell asserts; “The legal profession is still too obsessed with prestige and clinging to outdated ideas of what constitutes professionalism. A person of Kim Kardashian’s status and background becoming an attorney blows up the idea of what a lawyer is or should be and that is a positive thing.”
KKW is also clearly mindful of her influence over her millions of followers globally and seems determined to use this platform for the greater good. Kardashian-West has shone a light on the need for prison reform in the US and her other humanitarian efforts include drawing attention to the Armenian Genocide and promoting Transgender Rights. Kim Kardashian-West has also shown herself to be a dynamic business woman and a devoted wife and mother. Kardashian-West may draw disapproval in some quarters but her impressive and undeniable credentials speak for themselves.
Kimber Russell contends; “Frankly, the overwhelmingly negative press attention Kim Kardashian has received for deciding to follow in her father’s footsteps strikes me as incredibly sexist. The assumption that because she is a celebrity and mostly known for her physical appeal that she is unintelligent or incompetent is laughable because she turned a horrible personal experience into a global business empire. We need more people like Kim Kardashian to take interest in serious issues facing us in society, and should welcome, not condemn her, for using her considerable fame and resources to reform our broken criminal justice system.”
The practice of law is an occupation which requires resilience, substance, intelligence and integrity. Kim Kardashian-West is a highly credible candidate for this profession and clearly has what it takes to excel as a Lawyer. Despite these undeniable attributes, Kardashian-West’s detractors’ continue to deem her unsuitable for the role. Some subscribe to the theory that Kim Kardashian-West is better suited to stumbling out of a California Bar rather than practising at it. However in the face of the overwhelming evidence one must conclude that these doubts and protestations are unfounded and clearly without merit. In short, such objections must be overruled. Kim Kardashian-West’s razor sharp instincts and business acumen, evident thus far, clearly indicate that she will undoubtedly cut it -at the Bar.
By Paula Logan
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