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With the dot-com boom now firmly consigned to history, some New York lawyers are taking aim at what others hoped would be the era’s one enduring legacy — casual dress. Lawyers in the New York office of Greenberg Traurig were informed by e-mail last Wednesday afternoon that because the “mood and business climate in [the legal market had] changed since the heyday of the tech boom,” the firm would be reverting to a business-formal dress code effective April 1. “As a serious firm that focuses on serving high-level clients on their most important matters,” Richard Rosenbaum, managing shareholder of Greenberg’s 200-lawyer New York office, wrote in the Wednesday e-mail, “we need to present an appearance that we are here to make them feel comfortable, in good, serious hands.” The e-mail also warned that improperly dressed employees would be sent home to change, with hours or pay docked where appropriate. Within the last four years, virtually all major law firms in New York, along with banks and other traditionally formal workplaces, adopted casual dress policies. Such policies were seen as no-cost measures by which tradition-bound firms could both project a hipper image to dot-com clients and improve associate morale. Now other considerations clearly have priority. “There are no clients today that will be offended that their lawyers are in suits,” said Rosenbaum in a later interview. “There are clearly clients that are less than comfortable with lawyers in jeans.” Though Greenberg appears to be the first firm to formally rescind its casual dress code, others have seen the widespread return of suits, even without an official change in policy. A spokesman for New York’s Shearman & Sterling reported that many, if not most, lawyers in that firm’s Lexington Avenue offices wore suits on a regular basis now, even though the firm still permits casual dress. The trend at law firms follows that at investment banks. Though only a few have officially gone back to business-formal dress codes, most bankers still lucky enough to have jobs now wear suits to work almost every day. Of course, many law firm partners always had misgivings about abandoning suits. “It was hotly debated at the time,” said H. Rodgin Cohen, chairman of New York’s Sullivan & Cromwell, recalling his firm’s switch to a full-time casual dress. Some partners, he said, argued that the firm could always go back. But Cohen said he always thought there would be no going back. Casual dress, he said, had proven enormously popular among both associates and partners, including himself. “Having been in the army, I’m not a big fan of uniforms,” Cohen said. The fact that many other firms, including many perceived as more conservative, are sticking to casual dress policies has annoyed some Greenberg associates, particularly since they were not consulted on the decision. One associate noted that Miami-based Greenberg was focused mostly on mid-market transactional work, and contact with suit-wearing investment bankers was limited. “I see it as a wannabe move,” the associate said. “It’s driven by a desire to make clients think differently about us.” WARDROBE WOES Because Greenberg introduced its casual-dress policy in 2000, many junior associates have never had to buy a large wardrobe of business clothes. “People basically see it as a pay cut,” said the Greenberg associate, noting that most younger lawyers maintained only a few suits and would now have to spend thousands to replenish their wardrobes. Rosenbaum acknowledged that Greenberg is not the sort of old-line firm that others might have expected to lead the charge back to business-formal attire, but he said the firm’s position in the marketplace was what drove changes in firm policy, not the other way around. “As our clients have become bigger and bigger,” he said, “it’s become even more important that we make them feel comfortable.” Associates had expressed mostly positive feelings about the policy change to him, said Rosenbaum. “I think they feel more in step with where the world is,” he said.

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