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It’s hot, you rarely see clients in person, and the rest of the business world seems to have embraced a relaxed dress code for the summer, if not year-round. Don’t put the seersucker suit in mothballs just yet, but some New Jersey firms — even those with corporate clients slinking down the halls — are permitting business-casual attire, at least on Fridays. And others are expanding their tolerance to other days of the week. “If you’re more comfortable, you tend to work harder,” says Rochelle Gizinski, a partner in Abazia & Gizinski in Carteret, N.J., who wore sandals to the office last week. But just in case, she keeps a spare dress and shoes on hand. “You never really know when a plaintiff is going to drop in,” Gizinski says. And that’s been the friction point for many lawyers — that casual clothing will make them appear less professional to their clients. Drinker, Biddle & Shanley’s experience has been quite the opposite. The Florham Park, N.J., office has had casual Friday year-round since last year but just started allowing casual dress every day for the summer. “This was more client-driven than lawyer-driven,” says partner John Michel. Clients were commenting that attorneys, wearing long-sleeved suits and buttoned-up shirts on sweltering summer days, were overdressed. The casual look has become more acceptable among corporate clients, says Steven Gross, managing partner of Newark, N.J.’s Sills Cummis Radin Tischman Epstein & Gross, which recently moved from Fridays-only to everyday business casual. To set the example of what is appropriate attire, Sills Cummis held a fashion show at the office in May. Clients such as clothing manufacturers Annie Sez and Brooks Brothers provided the attire, while lawyers modeled the fashions. Nonetheless, Sills Cummis instructs its attorneys to dress according to the situation and requires that everyone keep a spare suit in the office for emergencies. “What you don’t want to do is embarrass your clients or yourself,” Gross says. The shift by corporate clients to more casual clothing is in sync with the findings of a recent nationwide survey. The Alexandria, Va.-based Society for Human Resource Management polled 606 companies across the country and found that 95 percent had dress-down policies in 1998 — dramatically up from 24 percent in 1991. However, the figure dipped for the first time last year to 87 percent, and spokeswoman Kristin Accipiter says that some companies may have ended the policy because a few employees pushed the privilege to an extreme. Some employers have complained that casual dress has given way to casual workplace attitudes to match, she says. In the case of law firms, deciding what is appropriate depends on the nature of the work and clients’ expectations, Accipiter says. A formal suit may be perfect in the courtroom but may not go over well for a meeting with representatives of an Internet company. “You may be seen as not suiting the needs of the organization,” says Accipiter. “You may be seen as a bit stuffy.” Firms like Cherry Hill, N.J.’s Flaster Greenberg, which decided to go business-casual year-round beginning this summer, see the change as keeping in step with the corporate community, says director of administration Greg Lloyd, who, as “auditor” of work attire, makes sure that employees don’t stray from appropriate bounds. And what are the bounds? In one instance, Lloyd had to pull aside one woman for wearing a skirt so skimpy “that it was more like a belt.” Acceptable business casual varies from firm to firm, but generally, jeans, sneakers, shorts, and collarless shirts are banned. Some firms are more specific, barring sandals, overalls, and leggings. At Wilentz, Goldman, a recent memo makes clear that spaghetti straps are off-limits. Even at firms that have adopted casual dress, there are lawyers that remain deadset against it. “I loosen the tie when I’m in the car to go home,” says Robert Beck, a partner with Parker, McCay & Criscuolo in Marlton, N.J., which started allowing dress-down Fridays about two years ago, then switched to allowing everyday business casual. Beck, who has been practicing law for more than 40 years, stubbornly sticks to traditional regalia — suit and tie every day, no matter how hot it is outside. It’s not only because he remembers the time when judges ejected an attorney from the courtroom for wearing a blue shirt beneath a jacket. It’s also because wearing a suit “feels” more lawyerly. “I believe that wearing a coat and tie on a daily basis promotes professionalism,” Beck adds. “It’s good for morale.” The other attorneys and support staff at the Cherry Hill branch office where Beck serves as counsel for Commerce Bank dress similarly. Nobody’s complaining, Beck says. Beck says that formal wear makes a better impression on clients. “When they go to a professional, they expect that professional to look like a professional, and I don’t think you look professional coming to work in khakis and a golf shirt,” he says. But for fellow partner David Parker, who works in the Marlton office, khakis are just fine. Except for a handful of incidents, like when one attorney came to work in sweat pants, the policy has worked well and is likely to continue, he says.

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