LLVL: Get Dressed For Success!

LLVL mediumDuring Valentine’s Day, in my first year as an associate, the management decide to tell us how to dress for success.

I’ve noticed that LoyarBurok is doing some sort of “love week” with Valentine’s Day coming up. Unfortunately, I don’t have any interesting Valentine-related legal practice stories. There was that rumour about goings-on in the office carpark that one year, but… anyway.

On Valentine’s Day in my first year as an associate, the management sent around an email to all the associates, asking us to attend “an important briefing” in the boardroom. We were told to come in batches, based on our seniority. As the first years were right at the end of the day, we had already heard from the seniors that this “important briefing” was actually a “dress-code briefing” — and only God knows what inspired them to do this.

It was a surreal experience.

As we filed in, the two partners (one male, one female — neither of whom we thought dressed at all well most of the time!) stood quietly. They then dimmed the lights, and played a bizarre slideshow of men and women dressed very professionally, and boringly. The soundtrack to this cringe-worthy photo queue was an aptly cheesy song with the lyrics “gotta get dressed… for success! Shaping me up for the big time, baby…” which someone later pointed out was by Roxette.

The kind of music law-firm partners think is inspiring. Yeah.

The kind of music law-firm partners think is inspiring. Yeah.

The briefing wasn’t any better. I struggled to stifle my laughter, and we all avoided eye-contact in the knowledge that everyone was on the verge of a complete giggly meltdown.

Some guidelines for the men:

  • “Only black or brown shoes, no velcro, and no Doc Martens.” This made us snigger inside, as we knew that it was directed at a third year lawyer, who quite famously got told off by a judge for loudly fiddling with his velcro-fastened shoes in court. “Surely you know how to tie shoelaces by now? Even my ten-year old son uses laces.”
  • “Dark-coloured shirts are not allowed.” The reason given was: “You’re supposed to be lawyers, not John Travolta,” which led to confused looks and post-briefing debate about whether Travolta wore predominantly dark colours.
  • “No fluorescent ties, and no bow ties of any colour.” This was taken particularly badly by one first-year lawyer, who had a vast collection of brightly coloured ties. “Is yellow considered fluorescent ah? Even if it’s not glow-in-the-dark?”

The guidelines for women proved to be far more contentious, particularly the last one on this list:

  • “No lacey bras with white shirts.” Okay, logical, and we knew exactly which lawyers this would affect.
  • “Skirts must be knee-length. No mini-skirts, and no full-length skirts except for Muslim lawyers.” This caused some murmurs amongst the more conservative non-Muslim lawyers who felt that it was unfair that they couldn’t choose to wear ankle-length skirts.
  • “All female lawyers must wear skirts. No trousers or pants.” Yup, this was the controversial one. Many raised objections that this was being sexist and unfair. As we were the last group of the day though, there was no chance of the protests making a difference, all that could be said had already been said by the earlier groups, and shot down. The female partner explained that it was non-negotiable, effective from the following day, and had been agreed to unanimously by the partners.

The post-briefing mamak session was all about “Aiyoh, now have to shave legs more regularly / Eh at least your legs nice lah, my knees very ugly lah / Shitlah my shoes dark maroon you think okay ah / Eh you guys remember the lime green tie I wore last week, is it considered fluorescent ah?”

The result? Everyone more or less ignored the guidelines, and the partners decided that it wasn’t easy to enforce (particularly the no-pants rule for women).

Addendum: Thank you for the emails. I’ve enjoyed your very interesting stories, and questions! You should see some of them woven into this column in the coming weeks. Do keep writing. (And to those who are asking me to sign up for a Twitter, er… no thanks… I do have a job, you know?)

Alter Ego has been a corporate lawyer in Kuala Lumpur for many years. Livin’ La Vida Loyar is a weekly semi-fictional, sorta-kinda-fact-based, non-chronological account of her experiences in the legal industry. She is writing this column anonymously because she doesn’t want people around her to know that, when she’s furiously typing on her BlackBerry in their presence, she is actually taking notes for this column! Plus of course there’s all this mumbo-jumbo about client confidentiality and getting disbarred. If you have an interesting story to share from your experiences as a lawyer, your encounters with a lawyer, or if you have a question about lawyers, please email her at [email protected]. Confidentiality is guaranteed. She thinks tweeting should be left to the birds. As all fiction is to some extent autobiographical, you may think she’s writing about you. She’s not. Jangan perasan. You may also think you know her. You don’t. Jangan kay-poh.

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Posted on 9 February 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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