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The New York office of San Francisco’s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe was a holdout among holdouts. The everyday-casual epidemic began on Orrick’s home turf, California, in 1996 and ’97, but the firm resisted until last spring. And Orrick New York was the last holdout among the firm’s nine U.S. offices. Partner-in-charge Larry Fisher, a 35-year veteran, told his peons that if they didn’t like it, they could go hang torn jeans on the backs of their doors. But at the end of August, Fisher raised the white, khaki flag and made casual dress, previously limited to the summer, year-round. “I wouldn’t have changed if not for the sea change I perceived going on,” says Fisher. “I was trying to gauge whether we were past the tipping point. My sense is we are. Most firms will be forced to change. Ultimately, you issue a memo and say, ‘Oh screw it,’ and move on.” How did Fisher’s underlings respond? “I got several responses of a religious nature, as in ‘Bless you.’” Survey data and reporting by The National Law Journal confirms that everyday business casual at big law firms has indeed passed the tipping point. Last fall, most major Chicago and Boston firms made the switch. At the end of this summer, some holdouts around the nation relented, and everyday casual was swiftly embraced by the vast majority of major law offices in New York and Washington, D.C. Because most offices were already experimenting with summer casual, the revolution was scarcely noticed. “I’m not quite sure if there was a magic moment,” says Andrea Fields, managing partner of Hunton & Williams in Washington, D.C. “It was so successful all summer long, it was common sense to continue it. It’s driven by the fact that people find they can be more productive if they’re comfortable.” Other office leaders allude to different driving factors. “This was driven by young people: partners, associates and staff,” says Herb Zarov, a member of the management committee at Chicago’s Mayer, Brown & Platt, which made the switch at this time last year. “It’s remarkably important to them.” “What really tipped the balance was when the investment banks went over,” says Tom Cole, executive committee chair at Sidley & Austin, which resisted the trend in Chicago until midsummer. “Most, if not everybody, has gone to business casual,” says William Perlstein, chair of D.C.’s Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. “It was an easy decision.” Orrick’s Fisher says, “It became a morale issue. It could have become a recruiting issue.” A lawyer calling himself “DC Chef,” one of the ringleaders of the Greedy Associates Web sites, posted a regularly updated list of casual dress firms, to keep the pressure on. “When you have over 40 offices in D.C. that are casual,” he says, “including conservative stalwarts such as Covington [& Burling], big NYC outposts such as Skadden [Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom], and government agencies such as the [Securities and Exchange Commission], you know that you’ve found an issue whose time has come.” Other indicators: In the past year, Bigsby & Kruthers, a leading dress suit chain in Chicago, went out of business in a move attributed to the casualwear trend; and Selix, a northern California tuxedo shop, began offering ordinary business suits for rent. One Orrick associate says he made the argument to Fisher: “When the only people left wearing suits are department store clerks, just how prestigious do you think this will make us look?” STILL SUITED At least for now, though, the most notable holdouts in New York are three firms that don’t lack prestige: Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Sullivan & Cromwell; and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The most conservative-dressing firm in the nation may be Phoenix’s Snell & Wilmer. Alone among the 135 firms participating in the midlevel dress survey, it has neither casual Friday nor casual summer. Texas and Pennsylvania have seen extensive change. Georgia and Florida have significant pockets of resistance. But the most old-fashioned large market may be Ohio. Linda Martin, a managing consultant at Snider & Associates in Cleveland, says, “Ohio is the last to change in that regard. Here, casual Friday is a big treat. Go downtown and you’ll see the same thing you’ve seen for 30 years. Jones, Day [Reavis & Pogue] has a big influence.” Change is afoot even at firms perceived as holdouts, such as D.C.’s Williams & Connolly. Hiring partner Lane Heard says, “Our only policy is business attire. If you came here would you see everybody in business attire? No. Do we zealously enforce the policy? No.” Seventy percent of midlevels polled by The National Law Journal in June predicted that everyday casual would become ubiquitous within five years — a prediction that seems less venturesome today. Bethany Burns of Hunton & Williams wrote on the survey, “In the history of the world, people have only decreased the amount of clothing they wear. Gone are the three layers of underwear and the corset and the hat. Soon I hope pantyhose will be gone forever!” Data from the American Lawyer magazine’s larger midlevel survey, also collected in June, are dated, but suggestive. Of 3,250 associates surveyed, 46 percent reported that their offices had already embraced an everyday casual-dress policy, and 75 percent said that they personally favored such a policy. This suggests two things. First, as events proved, the situation at the beginning of the summer was unstable. Second, in the brave new world of everyday casual, there will be a significant minority who miss suits. Take the associates at Portland, Ore.’s Stoel Rives. Maria Gorecki says of casual dress, “It looks schmucky.” Jeremy Sacks chimes in, “I didn’t become a lawyer so that I would be mistaken for a golf pro.” Their former colleague Scott Garland objects for a different reason. “It’s the final recognition that what big-firm litigators do has nothing to do with the courtroom,” he says. Mary Niehaus, a partner at Sidley, told Vogue magazine in its August “Suit Issue” that she dreaded Sidley’s capitulation to the trend. “I have all these great suits in the closet that I won’t get to wear,” she said. “I’ve invested so much in Richard Tyler and Galliano.” The emerging rule is that a lawyer should use “good judgment.” Skadden’s official memo reads: “The choice to dress in business casual attire is an individual decision. Traditional business attire is always an option and will continue to be routinely preferred by a number of us. … Indeed, whenever there is any doubt about the client’s preferences, we should always choose traditional business attire.” Kathleen Isaacs, director of human resources at Dewey Ballantine, which made the switch on Aug. 14, says that at least one-third of employees dress formally on any given day, including, surprisingly, many of the first-years. “Debtslave,” a Greedy Associate who is regarded as an online fashion expert, says, “People will get away from the paranoia of ‘I have to get 82 pairs of drab khakis.’ I don’t see a backlash, but a maturation. I see casual dress becoming more varied and more formal.” Meanwhile, lawyers who made the switch earlier predict a period of messy confusion. Stoel Rives associate Peter Mostow recalls, “It was a rough transition. For some partners, the only casual clothing they had were 20-year-old polo shirts that had been washed hundreds of times — you could see the contours of their belly buttons, and they wore the shirts collar-up.” “There’s a certain amusing transition period,” agrees Mayer Brown’s Zarov. “We would go into a meeting and discover that the clients dressed up for us, and we dressed up for them.”

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