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'Don't giggle': Law firm under fire for memo to females

Lilit Marcus,TODAY contributor
Alan Abramowitz | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

A law firm's employee memo about professional behavior has gone viral and is being blasted online for what some say are sexist undertones.

Prestigious global law firm Clifford Chance, which has 35 offices in 25 countries, is coming under fire for the five-page guide, sent to all the female employees in its two U.S. offices, in New York and Washington. The tips, including "don't giggle," "don't take your purse up to the podium," and "no one heard Hillary the day she showed cleavage" was sent last week and leaked online shortly after.

The legal blog Above the Law acquired the memo and published it. Immediately, commenters began to weigh in with a wide range of opinions. Some felt that the email was sexist, while others thought that the advice was solid despite a couple of clunkers taken out of context.

"Where is the corresponding document for men?" one commenter asked.

"Read the memo and take a lesson from what might apply to you. If some of the points don't apply to you, ignore them and move on," wrote another.

A spokeswoman from Clifford Chance dismisses the allegations that the firm is sexist, saying that the memo was actually written by a woman.

"It was put together by a female partner from her personal perspective after years of public speaking," the rep told TODAY.com. "A lot of the tips in the document were gender-neutral. We believe that it is important that women as well as men are given access to a range of different viewpoints and approaches."

According to Staci Zaretsky, the Above the Law assistant editor and law school grad who posted the memo, the Clifford Chance email was seen as insulting because so many of its tips (like "wear a suit, not your party outfit") seemed obvious.

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"By the time you graduate from law school and pass the bar and work in a law office, you know how to dress," she said, pointing out that any newly hired lawyer has already worked internships or summer associate jobs. "You saw other people dress poorly and get in trouble, and you know how to stay on the safe side."

This isn't the first time that a female Clifford Chance employee has spoken out about work. Last year, one of the firm's female associates, who called herself Ms. X, quit her job by writing an email about the struggles of balancing family and a demanding workload.

The email, written in the form of a daily schedule, went viral. It included items like "Attempt to prioritize to-do list and start tasks; start an email delegating a portion of the tasks (then, remember there is no one under me)" and "finally arrive at daycare, baby spits up on suit, get kids to their classrooms, realize I have a conference call in 15 minutes."

Victoria Schwartz, associate professor at Pepperdine University's law school, believes that the Clifford Chance memo may have been a response to stories like Ms. X's—an attempt to specifically help out female employees by giving them advice from older, more experienced colleagues.

"Part of what we teach our law students is how to be professionals," Schwartz said. "I can't model for my male students what male attire should look like, but I make a point of modeling it for women."

Schwartz feels that female-specific advice from women is a good way to address workplace inequality. "Part of this memo is saying, 'Look, there are different dynamics.' You can pretend it doesn't exist or you can give women tools. There's at least potential that the firm was trying to do something good here."

—By NBC Today

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