Barely Legally Clooney: Why Amal Is More Than Her Last Name

On Jan. 28, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney represented Armenia in the European Court of Human Rights.  Her antagonist, Turkish politician Dogu Perincek, denied the mass murder of over 1.5 million Armenians during World War I.

But when approached by a reporter from “The Telegraph,” she was not asked about the history of the Armenian genocide.  The ensuing question was about — wait for it — the designer she was wearing.

Like this reporter, the media prioritizes Clooney’s status as a fashion icon over her career.  She is the latest addition to the list of trendsetters who effectively bewitched the world, joining the ranks of Jackie Onassis and Kate Middleton. In fact, Clooney was chosen as Barbara Walters’ Most Fascinating Person of 2014 for “one of the greatest achievements in human history” — her wedding to George Clooney.

The public fascination with Clooney is superficial. Before her relationship with her now-husband, the few reports concerning her were focused on or were related to her legal work. But, of course, when Hollywood’s most notorious bachelor gets engaged, the media fawns over the woman who managed to tame him. Any claim of genuine interest in her career is badly misconstrued — Clooney intrigues the media because of her marriage. Her beauty and impeccable style are the main focus, obviously hidden under the guise of her professional work.  Clooney is the first and only human rights attorney to have garnered so much attention, gracing magazine covers nationwide. If the world truly cared about human rights then Samira al-Nuiamy, the Iraqi human rights lawyer who was executed by ISIS last September, would’ve had a few magazine covers of her own.  But, alas, tabloids from Sept. 2014 were focused on Clooney’s Venetian nuptials and her custom-made Oscar de la Renta wedding dress.

Amal Clooney is beautiful before she is brilliant, wrongfully so. Emphasizing her looks over her career is sexist and absurd, especially when in the same regard as the most recent celebrity scandal.   She is more than her surname and certainly more than her wardrobe.  A London-based human rights advocate, she has a more prolific career than most lawyers would ever dream of. Fluent in French, Arabic, and English, she studied at the University of Oxford and New York University. Upon her return to the United Kingdom, she was offered a job instantly upon meeting legal powerhouse Geoffrey Robertson.  Her high-profile clients include former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. She is so well-respected that she is often asked to advise cases outside her specialty, consulting the United Nations on crises in Syria and Lebanon, among others.

Barbara Walters is wrong in her justification. Clooney is fascinating because she is the epitome of a modern woman, and has been so before her engagement. She shouldn’t be, in Walters’ words, “a star in her own world”; she should be a star in our world, respected and admired for her dedication and intelligence. It is an injustice to marginalize Clooney’s work as simply another task a woman does while being beautiful. As she described herself in a 2014 article for the Huffington Post, she is a “lawyer, activist, and author,” not just the stylish, raven-haired beauty accompanying her husband on the red carpet. Her place is not in the “Stars—They’re Just Like Us!” section of the tabloids; it is where her life’s passion lies: in the courtroom. Clooney is an inspiration to the next generation of young women to be ambitious, graceful and, most importantly, compassionate. She is not Cinderella. She is a self-made woman who “saved” herself and now strives to the save the world.

If that doesn’t warrant respect, then I don’t know what does.


Brittany Pham is a first-year biological sciences major.  She can be reached at brittaqp@uci.edu.