Covering: Mutable Characteristics and Perceptions of Voice in the US Supreme Court

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The emphasis on fit as a hiring criterion has raised the spectre of a new form of subtle discrimination. Under complete markets, correlations between malleable characteristics and outcomes should not persist. Yet using data on a cross-section of US lawyers, we document that firm rank and voice pitch of lawyers are significantly correlated: higher ranked firms employ more masculine sounding lawyers.  We next analyze US Supreme Court oral arguments between 1999 and 2013, and find that voice-based snap judgments based on lawyers’ identical introductory sentences, “Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court”, predict court outcomes.  Specifically, perceived masculinity is negatively correlated with winning, and this correlation is driven by the first lawyer to speak and persists within-lawyer.  Likewise, the connection between vocal characteristics and court outcomes is specific only to perceptions of masculinity and not other characteristics, even when judgment is based on less than three seconds of exposure to a lawyer’s speech sample.