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Who wears the pants in the Philadelphia district attorney’s office? Anyone who wants to, now that DA Lynne Abraham has rescinded a long-standing provision in the dress code that required women lawyers to wear skirts. “Times change, fashions change and we change, too,” Abraham said in an interview Tuesday. When Abraham first started practicing law, she said, it was considered “scandalous” for a woman to wear pants in a courtroom. But over time, she said, fashion and culture have changed, so that “now it’s acceptable to wear a pantsuit.” Judges and juries no longer have the negative reaction they once did to a woman in pants, she said. But Abraham stressed that the office is not in any way switching to casual dress. Both men and women must still wear suits, she said, although women will now be allowed to wear pantsuits. One of the main reasons for the change, Abraham said, was that women in the office were saying they found it more and more difficult to shop because many women’s suits aren’t offered with a skirt. “If they’re not making it, you can’t buy it,” she said. When Abraham made the announcement at a staff meeting with all the lawyers in the office last week in City Hall Room 653, it was met with a round of applause. Abraham said Tuesday that her decision resulted from a recommendation by a nine-member committee that had generated a hefty report offering suggestions about how to improve the office’s hiring and recruiting practices. Soon after her most recent re-election, Abraham said that she was looking for ways to improve the office in every area. Instead of a “suggestion box,” Abraham said she decided to form a series of ad hoc committees. “I didn’t appoint anyone to any of these committees. I told people to volunteer for whatever committee interested them,” she said. The “hiring strategies subcommittee” was formed in March and issued its report in June. ADA Kathleen McDonnell, the assistant chief of the legislation unit and chairwoman of the office’s hiring committee, said the issue of the skirts-only rule came up in the subcommittee’s conversations because it was also coming up in conversations with potential recruits. “Female law students were often coming to interviews in pantsuits and the office’s [skirts-only] policy was becoming an issue in some of the interviews,” McDonnell said. ADA Moira Mulroney, also a member of the subcommittee, said lawyers in the office generally agree with the strict dress code. “We’re very proud of the fact that witnesses know right away who the DA is when they walk into a courtroom,” Mulroney said. But Mulroney said the subcommittee’s advice to Abraham was that “women can look just as good in a pantsuit.” The timing of the new dress code was fortuitous, Mulroney said, “with the cold weather coming on.” McDonnell said Abraham was “very attentive” when the subcommittee suggested the dress code change because of the difficulties women have in shopping for suits with skirts. But both McDonnell and Mulroney said they don’t expect a sudden switch to pants. Instead, they said, the change is likely to be gradual. Two years from now, they predicted, about half the women lawyers in the office will be wearing pants on any given day. Many female prosecutors will still opt on their own to wear skirts whenever they are going to court, they said, and most probably won’t be rushing out to shop for a pantsuit right away. “But I did hear that there’s a group of women in the MC [Municipal Court] unit who are planning a shopping trip this Saturday,” McDonnell said last week.

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