Earlier in the year I succeeded in gaining a short internship in an employment law firm. Acting as my first form of legal exposure, it is often assumed that the majority of law firms work with full suits on and briefcases, which I was also guilty of believing. Although still true in most firms, my view immediately changed after my experience in this particular employment law practice. Nervously, I opted for more conservative dress attire with chinos, a shirt, jumper and formal shoes. Expecting to experience a law firm filled with the stereotypical full suit attire, I was surprised to notice that as I entered; lawyers wearing jeans and t-shirts were walking around the firm.
The senior partner that I was shadowing for the day explained to me how clients are no longer concerned with meeting a fully suited lawyer. Instead, they would rather meet the person behind the suit and how they can solve their legal problems over lunch. Consisting of frequent lunches and meetings, it was important for the employees to feel comfortable at work and able to meet clients who felt the same. This made clients feel at ease when meeting their solicitor and often allowed them to shield their identity from potential press photos (e.g. cameramen taking photos of business managers with men in suits, who were clearly lawyers) leading to speculation and bad press.
The dress policy demonstrated by this firm resulted in a win-win scenario for both the employees and clients. Employees benefitted from comfortable work clothing, and clients benefitted from the informality that normal clothing naturally allows for. However, there were some exceptions with meetings and conferences with counsel, where solicitors would put the suit on which they kept to hand in their office.
The legal landscape is one of dynamic and consistent change. With some firms taking action to allow for an informal clothing policy, resulting in high retention levels of staff. This part of my internship helped me understand how appearance has changed over the years in the legal sector and how flexibility is crucial in maintaining excellent client and staff satisfaction.