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Allen & Overy Warns Women to Cover Up

Vivia Chen

April 11, 2011

A&OGirl I've been racking my brains trying to find a connection between The Careerist and the upcoming royal nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Allen & Overy has gracefully obliged.

Recently, that Magic Circle firm sent out an e-mail, which was leaked to Rolled on Friday, to its female junior lawyers ("trainee solicitors" in Brit-speak), warning them about the perils of inappropriate attire. Here's what the A&O e-mail says:

Ladies--bit of a random one, but we've been asked to draw your attention to the fact that HR have received numerous complaints about the way female trainees have been dressing around the office. The main problem seems to be very short skirts and high heels and generally looking like we're going clubbing instead of to the office (as well as a failure to brush our hair, apparently!).

HR would like this to be addressed asap so they don't have to have uncomfortable discussions with individuals about it, especially as we're now getting into summer and are more likely to be wearing less as it gets hotter!

So what does this have to do with the Royals? Well, it turns out that Chelsy Davy (on right), one of Allen & Overy's trainees, is the on-again, off- again girlfriend of Prince Harry, who's third in line to the throne. Moreover, Davy is renowned for wearing short, short skirts while teetering on high, high heels. (Hat tip: ABA blog, Telegraph, MailOnLine)

To be fair, I have no idea whether the memo is directed at Davy or her club-going cohorts at A&O. For all I know, Davy dresses like the Queen of England at work.

Aside from the royal gossip, what fascinates me is that the sisters across the Pond seem to dress just as inappropriately as their American counterparts. Older lawyers have been fretting about how young female lawyers look for some time (click here and here). I'm beginning to think that the sartorial choice of women professionals is becoming an international crisis. Are women lawyers in Hong Kong, Rio, and Paris hapless too?

The tone of that A&O memo is fairly light and gentle. But I wonder if law firms shouldn't take a more direct approach instead of being so polite. I broached this subject a few week ago when I queried whether women professional secretly want "uniforms" sanctioned by employers.

But let me be a devil's advocate too: Maybe it's the firms' hang-up. Could it be they're getting too uptight about what women wear and falling way behind fashion trends? After all, it used to be shocking for women to wear pants at work or skirts that failed to cover their knees, or to go jacketless.

Readers, are women dressing too provocatively these days, or are the older lawyers just too easily excited?

Photo Credit: Indigo/Getty Images



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@ Advocate. Sounds like a good discrimination case against your firm, due to the gender discriminatory advice of HR to have you talk to her instead of a guy. HR's advice undermines the guys' authority has managers.

Imagine if HR told a guy partner to talk to a guy associate in this circumstances, undermining the female partners' authority! Kaching!

I work in professional development in a large U.S. law firm, and am constantly shocked at how the young female lawyers dress. They are by far our worst dressers. Everything is too casual, and they sometimes show too much.

They definintely don't need to be in suits every day since we're business casual, but they do need to look professional. I once watched one of them in a mock trial exercise. She did have a suit on, but with an inappropriately casual, unpressed top that didn't work with the suit. She wore a pair of heavy cotton tights, and every time she stood up the fabric of her skirt stuck to the fabric of her tights and pulled up oddly. She did a great job at the trial and received significant praise, but what I heard from the senior lawyers for days later was "WTH was she wearing?"

Another young female lawyer, who is considered to be a rising young star is always dressed too casually. The partners she works with don't seem to care, but I've heard comments from outside the office - people who have seen her at meetings and were shocked by her casual clothing.

I'll never understood how they can be so unaware of their personal brand. They work so hard to do good work, why on earth would they undermine their efforts and successes?

I just had to have a discussion with a young female associate b/c there were complaints about the way she dressed in the office - more like she was going out to Happy Hour vs court. She is young, very attractive and a very very smart lawyer who is well valued so I emphasized how well she was thought of here and that she should want that to be her reputation. Not how she dresses. Plus, b/c of how attractive & young she is I told her that when she goes to court or depositions she wants to be taken seriously and remembered for her legal acumen, not how she looked or how high her heels were. I think she was appreciative but it was hard to do. I felt bad but told her if she wasn't such a valuable asset to the firm, I wouldn't have bothered b/c she wouldn't be here much longer anyway.

Suffice it to say HR asked me (female ptr) to talk to her not any of her direct male supervisors who later indicated they had no problem with the way she dressed and never would have said anything. My point was I was looking out for her success as a smart female atty and if they didn't think her dress would be a factor they were blind.

Women have much more leeway in the way they dress for the office, as oppossed to men who have the choice of a dark suit and conservative tie only. This relative freedom is abused by some women who enjoy advertizing their "assets." So these ladies have to be remined to dress more professionally from time to time. Provocative dress distracts the young male attorneys as well as the old ones, let me assure you! Personally I enjoy the "sexy" look, but that's just me.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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