Clifford Chance, a massive, international law firm employing thousands of elite attorneys, distributed a memo entitled “Presentation Tips for Women” that was better suited for a middle school forensics class than for graduates of the world’s leading law schools. Worse, interspersed between rudimentary pieces of advice such as “Stand up” and “Don’t wave your arms” are a series of often-gendered suggestions that call into question whether one of the world’s largest law firms understands that professional women are fully capable of dressing themselves.
Among the words of advice offered to every single female associate at Clifford Chance are “Don’t dress like a mortician,” “Wear a suit, not your party outfit,” “If wearing a skirt, make sure audience can’t see up it when sitting on the dias,” and — in an odd reference to six year-old sexist news coverage of then-Senator Hillary Clinton — “No one heard Hillary the day she showed cleavage.”
Nor did the memo stop at advising professional women how to dress. Some other choice words of advice include “Don’t giggle,” “Don’t squirm,” “Practice hard words,” and “’Like’ You’ve got to Lose ‘Um’ and ‘Uh,’ ‘You Know,’ ‘OK,’ and ‘Like.’” In a dated pop cultural reference that’s likely to send many lawyers under the age of 40 to Google in order to remind themselves who Lauren Bacall is, the memo also advises women lawyers to “Sound Your Age” and to “Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe.”
The memo was apparently drafted and distributed by Clifford Chance’s Women’s Committee, leading Above the Law’s Staci Zaretsky to label the memo an “alleged woman-on-woman crime.”
This memo is the second high profile black eye for this particular firm in the last year that raises questions about whether women will be treated with dignity at Clifford Chance. Last November, a female associate quit the firm with a departure memo laying out a timeline of her typical day as a working mother in a big law firm. The day began at 4am with “Hear baby screaming, hope I am dreaming, realize I’m not, sleep walk to nursery, give her a pacifier and put her back to sleep” and ended at 1:30am the next day with “Finally go to bed.” Along the way, she has to get her kids ready for daycare, work a full day, microwave chicken nuggets for dinner, put the kids to bed and then begin work again at 9pm at night.
So if Clifford Chance’s associates don’t manage to look like a youthful Lauren Bacall every day they show up to work, it might have something to do with the fact that they were up past midnight frantically trying to draft a memo that’s due the next morning, all while their kid is lying in bed wondering why mommy never has time to read them a bedtime story.