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How Casual Does Your Office Need to Be?

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on April 22, 2015 1:08 PM

Gone are the "Mad Men"-esque days where everyone wore suits to the office. While many offices still have "dress down" or "casual" Fridays, reportedly invented by Dockers in 1992 (though possibly going back to Hewlett Packard in the 1950s, claims Business Insider), lots of offices have done away with suits and ties altogether.

The modern office is as casual, or as formal, as it has to be, and what it has to be is determined by its geography, its clientele, and its size. Where does your firm fit in?

Geography

There's a stereotype that over here on the West Coast, we're much less formal than the folks on the East Coast (and apparently in the South, they're more formal than any of them). That's largely true. While we don't come to the office wearing T-shirts and jeans, professionals in California often do come to work in what the other coast would call "business casual." Really business casual. We mostly don't wear suits and ties -- even as lawyers -- unless we're going to court. (Many lawyers keep a spare suit and tie in their offices, just in case.)

In an East Coast office, however, biz-cas on a traditional biz day might make your office appear unprofessional if everyone expects suits and ties.

Clientele

We've all heard that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, considers the hoodie to be the height of startup fashion, prompting endless think pieces about startup culture. Whatever that culture is, if those are your clients, your firm needs to match them. Hip startup clients can be scared off by what they perceive to be a stodgy, business-y environment populated by besuited men and women with shiny shoes.

Conversely, more old-school clients won't take kindly to the "unprofessional" atmosphere created when people wear jeans to the office (or even biz-cas). Make sure you know which message you want to send to which client.

Firm Size

Boutique law firms usually market themselves in opposition to BigLaw firms: We're focused on you, not on one bajillion clients spread throughout the world; we're limited to a few practice areas; and we're flexible. Such firms may want to differentiate the culture of their offices, as well, and one way to do that would be to create a relaxed dress code that doesn't scream white-shoe formality.

Whatever your dress code is, the watch word these days seems to be "flexibility." There's no longer a single, monolithic way to dress at work, but one that changes as circumstances dictate.

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