A Sign of the Times: Are corporate dress codes going out of style?

March 20, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Pinsent Masons has followed the lead of several other City firms by scrapping its stringent, two-page dress code in favour of a more relaxed, one-line policy that requires lawyers to “dress appropriately for their job, schedule and stakeholders”.

What does this mean?

As law firms are becoming increasingly diverse, many are adopting more lenient dress codes to reflect and accommodate for this diversity. Dress code also contributes to firm culture, so several firms have altered their policies to become more modern and inclusive. During the summer heatwave of 2018, Baker McKenzie implemented an informal dress code which allowed staff to wear jeans when not meeting clients. It was made permanent when it was deemed to have had “no impact on projected professionalism”. Slaughter and May encourage its staff to dress “in line with their gender identity and expression”. Following its 2017 three-way merger with Nabarro and Olswang, CMS adopted a casual dress code to promote integration and cohesion between its traditionally smart solicitors and their new Olswang colleagues.

What's the big picture effect?

This story highlights the growing trend of law firms relaxing their dress codes and the benefits that this can bring. Firstly, it can shake off the old-fashioned image that is commonly associated with the legal profession and make a firm appear more modern. This may appeal to the younger generation of legal talent. It may also have a positive impact on job satisfaction, as 60% of lawyers want to ditch “stuffy office traditions” like strict dress codes, and 41% say they would quit their current job to join a more modern, forward-thinking firm. 

The updated CMS dress code indicates how this policy change can bring staff together, particularly following a merger. Christina Blacklaws, former president of the Law Society, said: “Making changes to what we are allowed to wear to work is relatively easy and makes a huge and positive impact on inclusion and law firm culture”. 

Informal dress codes are also less likely to provoke controversy surrounding lack of respect for gender identity and religious beliefs. When the legal profession was dominated by white males, a stringent suit-and-tie dress code seemed appropriate. However, over 60% of new solicitors have been female each year since 2014, and the percentage of BAME solicitors has doubled in the last decade. Relaxed dress codes more accurately reflect the increasingly diverse legal profession. The lawyer demographic is changing, and so is what they’re wearing.

Report written by Isobel Deane

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