I rather dread this time of year, because this is when the big law firms in the land start looking like golfing camps. It's business casual season, which means that legions of lawyers--young and old, male and female--are donning pressed khakis and polo shirts.
From a style point of view, it is utterly stultifying.
Maybe that's why I got excited when I met a Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan associate at a party who defied that mode. Instead of wearing that "neat and spiffy" casual uniform, he arrived--straight from the office--decked in shorts and flip flops. He was jaw-droppingly sloppy.
What's fascinating is that the firm not only tolerates such extreme dress-down, it encourages it.
"We take casual dress to a whole new level," says founding partner William Urquhart. "The only dress code we have is that you to have something between your feet and the carpet--and that's because our insurance company requires it!"
At all times of the year, Urquhart tells me, dress-down is the dominant style at the firm for partners and associates and men and women. T-shirts and jeans are popular with everyone, he says, but the difference is that "men are more likely to wear ones that their wives told them to throw out--those with raggedy edges."
But why would any firm encourage such sloppiness? Doesn't it undercut professionalism? Ah, well, there's a business reason.
Urquhart says he's convinced that sartorial freedom helps nurture legal genius: "What we [litigators] do is an exercise in creativity. You have a set of facts and the law--and you have to be creative with the two. Dressing casually improves our creativity." What's more, he says, it helps break down barriers, so that young associates are "more likely to speak up" and "not be so intimidated by the trappings of power."
But not all associates like the idea of über-casualness at the office. One associate at the New York office of a big California firm is appalled that lawyers--especially older ones--would even think of wearing jeans. "Generally, if it's a man [wearing jeans]--especially a partner--it's a disaster, and involves some sort of oversized polo shirt," she says. "They have no style." As for shorts, she says she'd rather not think about it.
Urquhart, however, says he thinks the casual dress policy at his firm is popular: "I haven't heard from any associates about not liking our policy." He adds: "Besides, I don't think my legs are that bad."
Below: Scenes from Quinn's New York office: