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Tie optional

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On a hot Friday afternoon, Bruce Kehoe showed up at the office in jeans, Nike athletic shoes, and a striped polo shirt – not the typical outfit for a busy personal injury lawyer. Kehoe had been working on a car accident re-creation for most of the day; otherwise, he said, he wouldn’t normally wear Nikes to work, not even on casual Friday.

Attitudes about law firm attire have changed since Kehoe first joined Wilson Kehoe Winingham 30 years ago. And they changed even more so after partner Harry Wilson died in 2004.
 

wilseon kehoe Bruce Kehoe (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

“On the occasions when I would come into work in my jeans and golf shirt, Mr. Wilson would say, ‘Mr. Kehoe, are you practicing law today?’” Kehoe said, emulating Wilson with a booming voice.

Kehoe paused for a moment, smiled, and said, “Casual clothing for Mr. Wilson was, he’d take off his tie.”

Relaxed requirements

Mary Coffey, director of administration for Woodard Emhardt Moriarty McNett & Henry, said that her firm has observed casual Fridays for at least 10 years.

“I think that we sort of started when the job market in general became more accepting of casual Fridays,” she said. “Generally, it seems like the business environment has grown a little more casual over the years. We’re not 100 percent suit-and-tie the rest of the week; it varies by attorney.”

At Lewis Wagner, every day is casual day – a business practice that managing partner John Trimble learned about when he had a job interview at the firm in 1979. He said that Robert Wagner welcomed him to his office dressed in white pants, topsiders, and a yacht captain’s hat.
 

wilson kehoe Edward D. Thomas, Lewis Wagner associate. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

“And I had worn a three-piece suit,” Trimble said.

While firms may have eased dress codes through the years, “casual” is a word that people may interpret differently, and sometimes employees need a gentle reminder about the boundaries of good taste.

“We do have a description of what is inappropriate in our employee manual, and that is distributed to mainly the staff and associates,” Coffey said. “Anything that looks like beach attire is certainly not appropriate.”

T-shirts with writing or messages are not permitted at Coffey’s firm, either – with one exception.

“Colts jerseys on blue Fridays, of course, are exempt,” she said.

Client and peer expectations

Kehoe said if his firm is handling a particularly serious case and expects those clients in the office on Friday, management may cancel casual day.

“You have to meet somebody’s expectation,” he said. “When you have clients in, you want them to know you respect them.”

Kehoe describes the firm’s clientele as “ordinary, blue-collar hardworking folks.” And with that in mind, the firm takes steps to make clients feel at ease.

“We don’t want oriental rugs on our floor, because our clients aren’t comfortable in that kind of environment, as a general rule,” he said.

Attorneys know that no matter what their firm’s dress code may be, they may occasionally need to appear before a judge or at a function that requires more than khakis and a polo shirt. Kehoe said he keeps at least a few shirts, ties, and suits in his office, in case of emergency.


wilson kehoe (From left to right) Lewis Wagner staff Gi Maddox, Erin Koontz, and Melissa Kiesler sport sandals and fresh pedicures on casual Friday.  (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

“If a federal judge or magistrate calls, I’m not gonna say, ‘You know, it is casual Friday, your honor,’” he said.

At Lewis Wagner, many attorneys keep at least a suit jacket on-hand. But they need not worry about outside attorneys passing judgment on their outfits during a routine workday.

“We have always strategically been in a building where we are the only law firm,” Trimble said.

The clothes don’t make the man – or woman

Kehoe said he sees no connection between the way a person is dressed and the quality of his or her work.

“Good people do good work – and they can do it in a three-piece suit, or they can do it in a shirt and slacks,” he said.

Trimble echoed that sentiment.

“The view of the firm has always been that our clients hire us for our legal abilities, and we dress up when we need to dress up, and business casual is the best way to work,” Trimble said.

Debbie Shrum, legal administrator for Lewis Wagner, said that employees at the firm reap the rewards of a relaxed dress code.


wilson kehoe Law clerk Annie Alonso poses for a photo at Wilson Kehoe Winingham. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

“It’s a financial advantage for primarily the staff – they don’t have to spend the money on dress clothes for the office and have casual clothes for home – they’re interchangeable for the most part,” Shrum said.

Kehoe said that allowing employees to dress casually is a way to show them that management appreciates them.

On the same Friday when Kehoe had worn his Nikes to work, law clerk Annie Alonso breezed through the lobby, smiling broadly, wearing rubber-soled sandals, jeans, and a cardigan. She agreed to pose for a photograph.

“I promise you,” Kehoe said with conviction, “her work is superb.” He reiterated that casual dress does not translate to a casual attitude about professionalism.•

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  • sartorial devolution
    Casual is fine but I'll pass on the flip flops and dungarees. Khakis is about as far as it should go towards "casual."

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  1. Video pen? Nice work, "JW"! Let this be a lesson and a caution to all disgruntled ex-spouses (or soon-to-be ex-spouses) . . . you may think that altercation is going to get you some satisfaction . . . it will not.

  2. First comment on this thread is a fitting final comment on this thread, as that the MCBA never answered Duncan's fine question, and now even Eric Holder agrees that the MCBA was in material error as to the facts: "I don't get it" from Duncan December 1, 2014 5:10 PM "The Grand Jury met for 25 days and heard 70 hours of testimony according to this article and they made a decision that no crime occurred. On what basis does the MCBA conclude that their decision was "unjust"? What special knowledge or evidence does the MCBA have that the Grand Jury hearing this matter was unaware of? The system that we as lawyers are sworn to uphold made a decision that there was insufficient proof that officer committed a crime. How can any of us say we know better what was right than the jury that actually heard all of the the evidence in this case."

  3. wow is this a bunch of bs! i know the facts!

  4. MCBA .... time for a new release about your entire membership (or is it just the alter ego) being "saddened and disappointed" in the failure to lynch a police officer protecting himself in the line of duty. But this time against Eric Holder and the Federal Bureau of Investigation: "WASHINGTON — Justice Department lawyers will recommend that no civil rights charges be brought against the police officer who fatally shot an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., after an F.B.I. investigation found no evidence to support charges, law enforcement officials said Wednesday." http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/22/us/justice-department-ferguson-civil-rights-darren-wilson.html?ref=us&_r=0

  5. Dr wail asfour lives 3 hours from the hospital,where if he gets an emergency at least he needs three hours,while even if he is on call he should be in a location where it gives him max 10 minutes to be beside the patient,they get paid double on their on call days ,where look how they handle it,so if the death of the patient occurs on weekend and these doctors still repeat same pattern such issue should be raised,they should be closer to the patient.on other hand if all the death occured on the absence of the Dr and the nurses handle it,the nurses should get trained how to function appearntly they not that good,if the Dr lives 3 hours far from the hospital on his call days he should sleep in the hospital

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