Friday, February 01, 2008

Clothes make the lawyer?

Click on the title to this post to read a Wall Street Journal article by Christina Binkley, "Law Without Suits: New Hires Flout Tradition ... Young Attorneys' Casual Attire Draws Criticism at Big Firms; A Crackdown on Ugg Boots" (January 31, 2008; Page D8). The article features such tidbits as...

For young men and women, a business suit is an uncomfortable yoke to be dusted off for special occasions. "Getting up in the morning and putting on a suit is hard," says Sara Shikhman, a 26-year-old legal associate at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP in New York. She says she hasn't worn one in six months.
When it came time to pick a point person for a plum assignment at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips recently, the New York law firm chose "a polished, professional-looking associate" over a "brilliant" and experienced associate who had been counseled, to no avail, to improve his grooming and attire, says Renee Brissette, a partner at the firm.

The firm opted for someone more presentable to the client,... (snip)

Winston & Strawn brought in a personal shopper from a local department store last year to address associates on how to shop and dress for work. Mr. Mills says that when some associates do make an effort to dress up, they seem to base their look on Hollywood. "You get the TV-woman lawyer look with skirts 12 inches above the knee and very tight blouses," he says. "They have trouble sitting and getting into taxis."

The firm also hired etiquette consultant Gretchen Neels, a former executive recruiter, to give lectures on grooming, dress, and etiquette standards such as where to place one's napkin at dinner. (snip)

Ms. Neels, founder of Neels & Co. in Boston, has been making the rounds at law firms, as well as law and business schools at Duke, Harvard and other universities. She hears all sorts of complaints from scandalized partners: One young attorney wears yoga pants to work. Another associate blasted out a firmwide email searching for a size-32 belt when an unanticipated court appearance required him to dress up midday.

Ms. Neels notes that business-school grads share law associates' casual sartorial attitude, and she tries to connect the dots between what they wear and how they come across. When she was coaching M.B.A. graduates at Harvard last weekend, she says only about half came in a suit. One young man showed up in cargo pants, and his cellphone rang during the interview.

"What I'm getting from you is that you're a jerk," Ms. Neels told the student as part of her feedback. "Can you see how I'd get that?"
But more entertaining even than the article are the snarky blog comments which follow the WSJ article and a derivative brief article at ABA Journal (here).

Gosh, am I indulging in schadenfreude on a rainy Friday afternoon in my dressed down academic librarian garb? Gosh, am I indulging in outright envy at the salaries they're discussing? Slap the face, slap the face, and repeat the mantra, It's the Lifestyle, not the Money!

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