Giggling Through Court: Women Lawyers Today

Monday, March 31 2014

Women comprise 31.5% of the American Bar Association; admittedly the landscape in the legal profession has changed dramatically since 1918 when the first women were accepted in the bar. However, a recent memo circulated to the American female lawyers at global law firm Clifford Chase felt it necessary to advise them to button up their blouses and use bigger words.

20131125-FTA-WOMEN-LAWYERS-LEGAL lady justice


The 163-point memo titled Presentation Tips for Women mixes advice on fashion and delivery, itself flitting between patronizing and useful.

Here are a few gems:

  • Sound Your Age:
    • Your voice is higher than you hear, Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe
  • Eye Contact Strategies:
    • Don't hide behind your hair
  • Mean Business:
    • Don't giggle, Don't Squirm,
    • Don't tilt your head, Don't wave your arms
  • What Not to Wear:
    • Wear a suit, not your party outfit;
    • Understated jewelry, nothing jingly or clanky;
    • No one heard Hillary the day she showed cleavage;
    • Don't dress like a mortician: if wearing a black suit wear something bright;
    • If wearing a skirt, make sure audience can't see up it when sitting on the dais;
    • Make sure you can stand in your heels, not trip, don't rock back on them;
    • Don´t wear the same outfit as you wore on the program photo or our website.

Some of the more general presentation advice is actually useful, and non-gender specific:

  • "like" you've got to lose "um" and "uh," "you know," "OK" and "Like":
    • Pretend you're in moot court, not the High School Cafeteria;
    • Practice dramatic pauses as fillers.
  • Make Yourself Clear
  • Eye Contact Strategies:
    • Make contact with 1 person on the right, 1 in the middle, 1 on the left
  • Know Your Audience

20131125-FTA-POWER-FEMININITY-PROFESSIONALwoman-putting-on-tieThe question remains as to why it wasn't distributed to both male and female associates alike. Given the fierce competition at law school, it's surprising to find such commentaries being made singly to female associates of a top international firm.

One can only conclude that, while women have an increasingly visible role in top positions at law firms, appearance and socially contrived concepts of femininity still play an important part in their perceived professionalism.

12 years ago the New York Times profiled 21 women at another prestigious law firm, and have now gone back to follow up on their progress at balancing work and family and what it takes to play at the big firms. Now, they've been invited to reflect upon their careers as power women in law.

Their stories reflect a more diverse perspective of what it takes to be a woman at a top law firm – without the pedantic memos. We hope you will be inspired by their stories as you follow your own path in law:



Amelia is a professional People Person, dedicated to helping people communicate and realize their ideas. After various lives in her native New York City, she has spent the last 8 years in Madrid chasing sunsets and traveling when she can.


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