Sweater shops

Interpreting ‘casual’ – as in casual dress policies at law firms – is a minefield

Like using the word associate to describe an assistant solicitor, ‘casual Friday’ is a US concept that has well and truly stuck among UK law firms. Some have gone so far as to let lawyers dress how they want for the whole summer.

Herbert Smith, for one, lets lawyers and staff work in civvies between early July and the end of August, and has done for years. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer last year began a firm-wide dress-down policy for August after previously doing this on a team-by-team basis. This is in addition to a year-round casual Friday policy. Of course, at both firms, partners and other staff are expected to dress for business when meeting clients, conducting interviews and the like.

Allen & Overy (A&O) is not a proponent of casual Friday, but does have a year-round dress code of smart/casual business. A&O’s reticence should come as no surprise – after all, this is the firm that last year sent an email chiding female trainees in particular for dressing like they were “going out clubbing”.
Nor should it come as a surprise that Olswang, with its trendy tech client base, has a dress-down Friday policy. Lawyers and staff at the firm can even wear jeans if they pay a pound to charity.

Of course, at some firms the unwritten rule is that ‘casual’ is defined by senior partners. At one firm (that shall remain nameless, except to say that it is in the top 20 but outside the magic circle) casual Friday was quietly discouraged after support staff took casual to mean jeans and T-shirts rather than chinos and sweaters.
James Swift