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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. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

  2. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  3. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  4. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  5. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

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