Global law firm Clifford Chance was in the news recently because of a memo it circulated called “Presentation Tips for Women,” which contained 163 nuggets of practical advice for its female lawyers. Some of the guidance included:

  • Don’t giggle; don’t squirm; don’t tilt your head.
  • Practice hard words.
  • Think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe.
  • Wear a suit, not your party outfit.
  • Your friends will still like you afterwards, even if you adopt a formal tone.

The memo was leaked to by one of the recipients who said in an email, “Female associates are very upset by not only the elementary nature of the tips themselves, but the suggestion that these would only apply to women. We have never been a very female-friendly firm, but this is beyond the pale.”

The memo was lambasted in the media, calling the firm “sexist,” “condescending” and “hilarious.” Clifford Chance responded to Above the Law, stating, “The offense caused by a small percentage of the suggestions in the tip sheet was entirely unintentional.” Google “Clifford Chance” and dozens of articles will appear.

If this can happen at an elite, 3,400-attorney law firm with offices in 25 countries, it can happen anywhere. Here are some tips to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

  • Inter-office memoranda are not privileged communications. Consider how any memo you write might look in the newspaper or online. NPR Radio program “Whad’Ya Know?” has a long-running segment called “Thanks for the Memos” where host Michael Feldman reads memos sent in by listeners for great comic effect. Craft your message with that in mind.
  • Don’t provide scattershot advice. Presumably, not all of the female attorneys at Clifford Chance are giggling, hair-twirling valley girls with limited vocabularies. By hitting too wide a target, the memo conveyed the message that all women are the same and need to shape up. A more effective strategy would include identifying employees, male and female, whose presentation skills need work and providing them with constructive feedback and opportunities to improve public speaking.
  • Model the attributes you want to see. The memo was a communication about communication, but did not accomplish its intended purpose because the tone and content failed to resonate and offended the recipients. A good communicator knows the audience and crafts a message with intention. Inspire your staff to be more effective by showing them rather than telling them.
  • Mentor young lawyers. This is a profession built on principles of internship and high ethical standards. Take your associates along when you make a presentation, argue a motion, and conduct a negotiation. Let them see a pro at work.
  • Provide professional development opportunities. All lawyers must take their required CLEs, but excelling in an adversarial, entrepreneurial profession requires more than substantive learning. Identify areas of improvement and recommend strategies and resources.

The future of a law firm depends upon its ability to select and retain talent. Grooming, coaching, mentoring and direct communication are essential to securing your firm’s continued vitality.


Reprinted with permission from the December 2, 2013 edition of “The Legal Intelligencer” © 2013 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382, or visit