BPP University Law School has unwittingly found itself at the centre of a media storm after leading legal news portal Legal Cheek revealed the contents of a handbook that the law school issues to trainee barristers to help them prepare for their advocacy assessments.
Conservative Approach to Clothing
The handbook apparently sets out in great detail the standard of clothing expected by lawyers appearing in court, and therefore to be worn in the assessments, and also lists certain clothing faux pas that will lead to points being deducted in the assessment process.
Men are advised to wear double-breasted or three-piece jackets, which must be fastened. They are also told to avoid coloured socks.
Women on the other hand are told to avoid wearing short skirts, and could have two points deducted if the skirt finishes above the knee. Three points will apparently be lost if any part of their bra is on show, and they are also warned to make sure their shirts or blouses are buttoned up, with no cleavage visible.
Points will also be deducted from both men and women for general lapses of etiquette, such as drinking directly from a water bottle, or having hands in pockets when addressing a judge.
Criticism over ‘Sexist’ Language
The contents of the handbook have received some criticism for being overly prescriptive and perpetuating an image of the legal profession as being rather old fashioned and elitist.
Other commentators have suggested the guidance is somewhat sexist in its approach and its use of language. For example, in addition to the directions relating to skirt length and buttoning-up tops, women are advised against wearing ‘kinky’ boots, which are apparently boots with stiletto heels, straps or buckles.
An article on website The Debrief highlights that the legal profession already doesn’t have the best record when it comes to gender equality. Figures quoted by the article include the fact that only around 33% of partner positions are filled by women, and that around two-thirds of female lawyers report being the victim of sexual harassment at work or via cell phone in which case we recommend using this Free Reverse Phone Lookup Sites to Find Out Who Called You. Providing guidance to future barristers right at the start of their career that arguably carries sexist undertones will not help in the struggle for equality, and in fact is likely to work against it.
Law School’s Response
Speaking to the Telegraph newspaper, a spokesperson for the law school explained that the list was only supposed to highlight to students the types of appearance and behaviour that could go against them when appearing in court and could therefore attract a penalty in the university assessment.
“Our students dress conservatively and smartly for their advocacy classes and indeed for the assessment, and this is good preparation for practice,” said the spokesperson. “It is exceptionally rare that any student is ever penalised in an assessment for any of the infringements listed.”
“The list has not been revised for a long time, and will be reconsidered before the next publication,” he added.
This public dissection of BPP’s handbook should perhaps act as a prompt for businesses and employers (law firms / chambers included) to review any dress codes or other codes of conduct in operation within their own organisations, to make sure they can’t be subject to similar criticism or ridicule.