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Allen Iverson and Britney Spears probably haven’t given much thought to applying for a job at Philadelphia’s Morgan Lewis & Bockius. But if they did, the firm would have some major issues to hash out with the multitatooed basketball star and the midriff-exposed pop princess. A little more than a year after Morgan Lewis and most of the city’s other large firms switched to a business casual dress code, a backlash of sorts is brewing that could soon turn frowns upside down for purveyors of formal business wear. Morgan Lewis managing partner for operations Tom Sharbaugh sent out an e-mail memo July 26 to all 2,500 employees, hinting that the firm’s casual dress policy is being put at risk by “a few bad apples” committing fashion sins. “This memo is difficult to send,” Sharbaugh told his employees. “I am a fan of our business casual policy, and I have no desire to be a member of the clothes police. Moreover, I understand that most people read these types of memos with deep cynicism. “On the other hand, it is clear that a number of people have departed from the dress standards that we first published. This has resulted in a significant increase in the number of people who believe that it is time to return to traditional business attire.” Sharbaugh continued to express mixed feelings later in the memo but issued a stern warning to those in violation of the firm’s business casual dress policy, which was put in place in March 2000 when firms were jostling for position with potential recruits in the starting salary wars. “We are not yet ready to pull the plug on the business casual policy,” Sharbaugh wrote. “However, I am confident we will eventually repeal the policy unless people dress in a more business-like manner. “I encourage … all of you to mention any instances of inappropriate dress to your fellow workers. Although they may get away with it, allowing them to continue will increase the likelihood that all of us will be dressing much more formally later this year,” the memo warns. Seemingly determined to hold the line against the ravages of popular culture, Sharbaugh laid out in his memo a “collection” of inappropriate attire. Highlights from the Morgan Lewis summer line of forbidden fashions include: capri pants; cargo pants and Army-type fatigues; oversized clothes; any top that does not cover the midriff; tops with low-cut necklines; see-through tops; halter, tube and tank tops; mini-skirts; team logo shirts; sandals (but mules and similar open-toed dress shoes for women are acceptable); men not wearing socks; footwear “that can best be described as footwear that flops up and down when the person walks;” visible tattoos and visible body piercings other than earrings. Sharbaugh’s memo also wrestles with a thorny fashion problem for men. “There seems to be a generational issue regarding whether it is appropriate for men to wear just a white t-shirt with a v-neck sweater?” Sharbaugh wrote. “This may be popular on the 8 p.m. television shows, but I side with those who think it is inappropriate for business.” Translation: Seek sartorial guidance from someone other than Ross on “Friends.” In an interview, Sharbaugh said his memo has been well-received, at least as far as he knows. So if the city’s largest private law office is toying with dropping business casual, could other firms also be thinking the same thing? None are willing to say so publicly, but sources say firms certainly want to be more vigilant about dress code policy. Legal recruiter Sandra Mannix of Abelson Legal Search said the pendulum is swinging in favor of formal attire. Reported abuses of the casual dress code, the thought that casual dress produces casual work habits and the fact that the client base has become more traditional with the failing of several high-tech companies all have contributed to this. “Law firms have never really been trendsetters in business fashion,” Dechert co-hiring partner Glenn Blumenfeld said. “We’re a service industry and we follow the lead of our clients. “Even though a good number of clients are going back to wearing suits, I see nothing in my practice that would lead me to believe that we will be changing our [full-time business casual] dress code any time soon. But I will say that five years from now, I think things will be a little more formal.” Firm leaders said they have had to blow the fashion police whistle on individual attorneys. Drinker Biddle & Reath chairman James Sweet, for instance, saw a partner dressed in a nice, V-neck sweater with only an undershirt beneath it. Sweet said he told the partner it was not an appropriate look. Even though Drinker Biddle has gone the business casual route, practice heads still hold the right to set their own dress codes. Sweet said one practice leader told the lawyers in his department that he didn’t like golf shirts and he preferred they wear oxfords. “I do sense the corporate world becoming more conservative but unless more of our clients go that route, I think we’ll probably stay casual,” Sweet said. A few Center City firms never really made the transition to business casual. After some spirited internal debates, firms like Cozen O’Connor, Fox Rothschild O’Brien & Frankel and Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley concluded that it was inconsistent with the professional image they wanted to present. Each firm does allow lawyers to dress casually when certain client-related functions dictate it. “When I go to [Philadelphia Bar Association] quarterly luncheons, you always see a few tables [of lawyers from specific firms] dressed down and they look completely out of place,” Fox Rothschild Philadelphia managing partner Abraham Reich said. “I just think the definition of business casual has become so loose that it doesn’t portray professionalism.” Blank Rome co-chairman Fred Blume said he also believes the casual dress boundaries have expanded too far. “To me casual dress means nice shirts or sweaters, slacks, shoes and even possibly a sport jacket,” Blume said. “But it’s become too relaxed. It’s supposed to be a law office, not a Saturday afternoon golf outing.” Otis Bilodeau of Legal Times contributed to this report.

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