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Law firms scrap dress codes and ‘Dear Sirs’ to modernise image

City tries to become better place for women to work after harassment scandals


City law firms are scrapping dress codes and banning the use of “Dear Sirs” in legal correspondence to shake off the sector’s fusty image.

US litigation powerhouse Quinn Emanuel this week adopted gender-neutral forms of address in a break with tradition.

It said staff should use alternatives such as “Dear colleagues” or “Dear counsel” following Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which banned employees from using “Dear Sirs” four years ago.

“We need to use [a form of address] that isn’t gender-centric or gender-specific. The idea is to show that we take gender seriously and are revolutionary and innovative in our thinking,” said Richard East, Quinn’s senior partner in London.

“It just doesn’t represent the profession any more, more women than men come into the profession every year so how can you continue to perpetuate practices like this?”

Pinsent Masons has also taken steps to modernise by scrapping its two-page dress code in favour of a one-line single statement.

It is advising staff to “dress appropriately for your job, schedule and stakeholders” in a policy change being trialled for a year.

The decisions come as law firms try to become better places for women to work following high-profile sexual harassment scandals at some leading groups.

Since 2018, there have been more women than men practising as solicitors in the UK, according to the Law Society. But there remains a gulf in pay between senior male and female lawyers and a lack of women in senior roles.

Pinsent Masons is changing its dress code to empower staff and give them more freedom.

In the past, it listed appropriate and inappropriate clothes, recommending polished shoes, smart trousers, dresses and jackets and warning against miniskirts, shorts and sun dresses.

Jonathan Bond, Pinsent Masons’ director of HR and learning, said: “There is a lot of discussion about conduct issues in the legal profession, and the reaction of many firms is to launch rafts of new policies and procedures to police behaviour.

“Our view is that while that approach might give the employer something of an insurance policy, it is impossible to legislate for every workplace issue and does little to address the underlying cultural issues and behaviours.”

The decisions by Quinn and Pinsent were welcomed by Christina Blacklaws, a former president of the Law Society in England and Wales.

She said: “Making changes to the way we address each other and what we are allowed to wear to work are relatively easy and make a huge and positive impact on inclusion and law firm culture.”

In 2016, Freshfields urged staff to use “Dear Sir or Madam” in the UK and “Dear Ladies and Gentlemen” in America. This was first reported by the Lawyer magazine.