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‘We don’t make lawyers wear high heels’: City law firms hit back at Hale’s criticism

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A number of City law firms have questioned some of the headlines generated in response to Lady Hale’s comments about women being made to wear high heels at work.

In an interview with the Evening Standard on Friday, Hale, 74, who stepped down from the UK’s top bench last week, criticised employers that force female lawyers to don a pair of high heeled shoes in the workplace.

“[O]ne does again hear stories of women being required to wear high heels by employers,” she said. “Why should they have to wear high heels? Requiring neatness, tidiness, cleanliness is one thing, requiring a particular image is another.”

Hale, who made her comments as part of a renewed call for greater equality within the legal profession, warned that women in law were still being held back by antiquated attitudes to workwear and that men would not be subjected to a similar policy.

Hale’s comments were quickly picked up by the national press. The Daily Mail ran the headline, ‘Britain’s top judge Baroness Hale blasts sexist law firms that still force women to wear high heels’, while the Telegraph and The Independent punted for, ‘Let female lawyers wear flat shoes, Lady Hale says’ and ‘Female lawyers should not be forced to wear heels, says Baroness Hale’.

Surprised that the brooch-wearing Baroness, who until yesterday was the country’s most senior judge, had focused her attention on female footwear, we went to various City law firms to see whether this truly is the case.

The 2020 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

It is perhaps unsurprising that all of the City firms that responded to Legal Cheek confirmed they have no formal policy on the matter, and that lawyers are not expected nor required to wear high heels at work.

Some of the firms we approached firmly rejected having such a policy in place for this would directly contravene their inclusive culture, while others advised they simply require employees dress in professional and appropriate business attire that does not stipulate wearing stilettos. In some, a ‘dress for your day’ policy is in place, where lawyers are encouraged to wear clothes based on their schedule for the day, and when meeting with clients, to dress in line with their expectations and the industry they work in.

We spoke to Irwin Mitchell solicitor and vlogger Chrissie Wolfe, who has filmed a number of workwear ‘edits’ on her YouTube channel, ‘Law and Broader’. She told us:

“My firm has a pretty modern attitude and there is no requirement or expectation that you wear heels to work everyday. If I have a meeting or court then I personally prefer to wear heels because I think I look more professional and it is still the norm that most clients and industry professionals would expect in those circumstances.”

So it seems we’ve come a long way since 2008 when magic circle member Freshfields took a hammering in the press for reportedly advising its staff to “embrace” their femininity by wearing heels.

In addition to her comments on female footwear, Hale, who has headed the Supreme Court since 2017, revealed ambitions to use her retirement to write a memoir. Hale will also take up an honorary position as a professor of law at University College London.

Junior lawyer event: How to build a career at a US law firm in London, with lawyers from Cleary Gottlieb, Kirkland & Ellis, Shearman & Sterling and Skadden — this Thursday evening: REGISTER TO ATTEND

118 Comments

Anonymous

I think ‘stories’ is the right word.

(7)(1)

Barrister

Her views are out of date- but not by more than 10 years for lawyers, and probably not by more than 2 or 3 years for receptionists. The issue of receptionists for City firms being required to wear heels and make up was in the news a couple of years ago. I doubt any major city firms still require it – given how popular opinion has turned against such practices in the last 2 or so years especially. Things are changing fast in corporate culture, not before time. Daytime high heels are dying out among London professionals imho.

(26)(2)

JDP

Outrageous! In my firm, our trainees are regularly encouraged not only not to wear high heals, but no clothes at all!

(29)(6)

Legal Undercat

Go to a posh law firm and look at the receptionists…..if they are all wearing big daft heels they are required to and are made up like old fashioned air hostesses they are “required” to even if this is not in their contract of employment.
No women with a choice and not worried about her job would dress like that. Let alone so many of them.
Lawyers can stand up for themselves (literally). Judge a firms policy by what the receptionists wear.

(20)(13)

Anon

“No women with a choice and not worried about her job would dress like that.”

Proof?

(13)(4)

Anonymous

Proof is unnecessary in these MeToo times. Wild supposition and assumption suffices and cannot be questioned. Asking for evidence makes you part of the problem and on a par with Weinstein.

(14)(5)

Anon

Where is the evidence for the second and third propositions?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

The employee at my local Tesco’s who insists on directing me to the self-checkout in six inch heels would beg to differ… women do have a choice, and some do indeed choose to dress in high heels with tons of makeup. As is their right.

(1)(0)

Sarcasmo

A retiring judge having out-of-date views? How out of the ordinary.

(16)(2)

Chippy from Tunbridge Wells

There is a big difference between a firm having a formal policy requiring women to wear high heels and a firm having a culture where there is a strong underlying pressure/implied expectation that women wear heels.

I would imagine very few firms have the former. I have worked at a number of firms (including large City firms) where the latter is definitely present.

The “requirement” that Baroness Hale is talking about does not automatically equate to a written policy, like this article implies.

(55)(3)

Anonymous

How does the underlying pressure and implied expectation manifest itself?

(2)(5)

Anon

If you show up in flats, the senior partner in your team will take you for a little “chat”. If on the next day you show up in anything below 9 inch heals, that person will never be heard from again.

(11)(2)

Anonymous

What is said during the “chat”?

(5)(6)

Anon

Use your imagination sunshine

Anonymous

I’m not asking to imagine what might have been said sunshine. I’m asking what is said during the “chat”.

Real

He knows what is said. He’s being intellectually dishonest in an attempt to appear clever. Like all people with second rate minds.

Anonymous

Same as you, I don’t know, hence the question.

What is said during the “chat”?

Anon

That’s right: you know what was said.

Anonymous

Nope, not a clue. Beginning to doubt there was a “chat”.

Anon

Glad you agree you know and that there was a chat.

Anon

Great, what was said during it?

Anonymous

So you know. Thanks for confirming.

Anonymous

No, what is said during the “chat”?

Good Lord

Guys, pack this in. This exchange is pathological.

It doesn’t take much imagination to know what was said during a conversation about what should and should not be worn.

And in any event, who cares?

Move on.

Dave

The Emperor has no clothes.

Better Lord

Any number if things could have been said during a “chat” about what should be worn, if it happened, that’s why it’s better to know what was said rather than imagine. The “chat” wasn’t necessarily between a man and a woman, it might have been between two women. It’s important because it’s part of establishing whether there is real pressure or expectation for women to wear heels or whether people are paranoid/exaggerating/lying. So it’s important to know what is said by each side during any “chat” as it may support one side or another. In this case, there is some doubt over whether any “chat” took place because the person mentioning the “chat” doesn’t appear to be the person who made the original comment and because they also talk about people who wear heels diisappearing, “never to be heard from again”, which doesn’t sound true.

Someone somewhere

During my first seat as a trainee (only two years ago), my (male) supervisor took me to one side told me to look more feminine “just like [associate]” and go on a shopping trip with her for tips on how to look more feminine. Before you say I must have been scruffy, far from it; my typical workwear was a plain dress, tights, flat shoes, and a suit jacket, with a bit of mascara. The associate he was referring to wore ridiculously high heels and glamorous tight dresses/skirts.

So yes, it may not be a written thing, but it’s definitely there. (And yes I complained to HR, and no they didn’t do anything about it.)

(11)(1)

Anonymous

Do you think it was significant that the supervisor was male? Were HR male or female?

(2)(4)

jim

There is DEFINITELY no such requirement, implied or outspoken, in my Magic Circle shop.

(4)(1)

Spidercnut

Hasn’t she retired? Can’t she just shut up a bit now?

(21)(21)

Misc

Interesting sociology research on heels:

“A majority of females (60%) reported wearing high heels for a date with an attractive male. In contrast, only 22% of females reported wearing high heels for a date with an unattractive male..females avoid wearing high heels when anticipating interaction w/an unattractive male”

https://twitter.com/robkhenderson/status/1216835476335796224

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Why would anyone go for a date with an unattractive male in the first place?

(4)(1)

Anon

Money, fool.

(6)(2)

Anon

You forget about the fat ones.

(2)(0)

h

High heels and most sun glasses look a bit silly in my view, but I believe high heel wearers do so to look taller or feel good or because they like buying stuff (which then needs to be worn really, or else it’d feel as silly as it looks). Am a bit bemused by the time people take online at work to shop for clothes, but its legal.

Law firm dress code generally slack these days, to the extent that I bought a pair of shoes for the associate in my room and suggested he get a hair cut and a shave (what’s that about…).

Am interested in Hale’s view on the law etc. and she’s done a good deal of that so no need to get too fixated (as I just have) with the clothing waffle of interest to the tabloid.

(4)(7)

Dave at DLA

I’m wearing high heels right now.

(4)(1)

Embee

If you need to wear heels to look “professional” then isn’t Lady Hale right? It doesn’t need to be in a formal dress code, required by the culture is bad enough.

(12)(4)

Anonymous

How is it required by culture though?

(6)(4)

Anon

How is anything mandated by culture. By norms which are often unwritten. Most women accept that “flats” are unacceptable in a professional environment.

(26)(8)

Gerald

Quite. Like not wearing an earring if you’re a bloke and you want to be a banker, lawyer, etc.

(10)(5)

Anonymous

Bad comparator to attempt to argue that the pressure on women to wear high heels is anywhere near the pressure on men not to wear earrings.

Jez

It’s a good comparator, because there is no written rule to like effect but it’s an enforced cultural norm.

Jez

It’s a good comparator, because it’s an unwritten rule to like effect which is enforced by a cultural norm.

Anonymous

Even although you say it’s good twice it’s still a bad comparator.

Anon

It’s a good comparator because it shows that rules can be unwritten and norms established thereby. Not very bright, are you?

Anonymous

Brightness is relative. You should learn this given your penchant for comparing like with not like.

Anonymous

Anon@2.21 you have won the argument. Move on and let this weirdo lick his or her wounds.

Anonymous

Anonymous@2.36 won the argument because anon@2.21 couldn’t backup their bad comparison.

Weirdo to suggest otherwise.

Iain

Sorry to butt in but the alleged comparator point is a non sequitur. It is the principle which is relevant. Conduct does produce modes of behaviour, even though they are not codified.

Anonymous

Agreed Iain. The comparator was rubbish and weakens rather than strengthens the argument.

Iain

No, the comparator was sound as a matter of formal, modal logic. It supported the principle contended for. Your criticism of it is thus a non sequitur.

Anonymous

That’s correct Iain, the comparator was toilet, rendering Gerald’s argument a non sequitur.

Anon

You are right in agreeing that the comparator was a sound one. Gerald’s argument was spot on. Your point is a non sequitur – I wouldn’t use the word “toilet”, as I am not a member of the lower classes. Do you also have a “lounge”? And a “nan”?

Anonymous

That’s correct Iain, the comparator was an insult to toilets everywhere, rendering Gerald’s argument a non sequitur.

Anon

Thanks for agreeing the comparator was sound. But do you have a lounge and a nan?

Anon

Indeed, Gerald’s comparison was toilet.

Anon

Do you have a lounge? Did you buy your own furniture? You sound like the sort of person who went to a school without dormitories and who thinks Tuscany is a girls’ name.

Anon

Thanks again. I showed my friends our exchange. They said their experiences did not differ from mine. And you say there is “nothing” to suggest the policy. This isn’t right, as I have shown you evidence of such a policy. Short of being able to point to a written policy, if HR tell you that they are enforcing a policy coming from the partners, that is evidence. In any event, I can tell you that, as a woman, it is very much the custom that women wear shoes with heals in the City and other professional environments. You might wear flats or trainers into the office, and back home again, but you change on arrival. I am not sure I will follow advice – albeit given in good faith – which tells me to ignore official office policy. At least not at my stage of career. In my 50s, maybe!

Anon

It has to be said it wasn’t the best of comparisons.

Anonymous

Not the best of comparisons but reasonable point by Gerald until he descended into madness and began bashing everyone who had never been to Tuscany

Anon

Gerald’s comparison was fine but he did go a little mad.

Anon

The point Gerald was responding to was reasonable, although not relevant to the article or comments. His comparison was terrible, and he made it worse by trying to justify it.

Anonymous

DO YOU HAVE A LOUNGE? AND A NAN?

Anonymous

See

Anon

After all that nonsense back and forth, it is clear that the comparator is false. Women look hotter in heels, men with earrings look like twats.

Anon

It was never a ‘comparator’ – it was a comparison. Thanks for highlighting it’s sexist and that Gerald was making a reasonable comparison

Anonymous

Not sure what ‘professional environment’ you work in sunshine!

(0)(0)

Ben

Well, not a hairdressing salon.

Anonymous

Perhaps that’s where you went wrong.

Anon

But not cases where there is a conflict of evidence. You cannot conduct a mini trial.

You say “…what HR told you was them saying there was a policy, not evidence that there was such a policy.”

Why is it not evidence of such a policy?

Anonymous

Because its them saying, not evidence.

Mic drop

If they accept that flats are unacceptable, without there being a formal requirement, you’ve just given an example of how culture can and does mandate certain behaviour.

(4)(1)

Better Pick It Back Up Then

That was their point. Unfortunately they used an example which isn’t true.

Realist

Absolutely.

Helen

It is entirely true. As you well know.

Anonymous

The point is that it’s not.

Anon

Yes, entirely true. Unfortunately.

Anonymous

As you know, it isn’t.

Jen

Yes, sad that women feel pressured by a norm that equates being professional with wearing a certain sort of shoe. But try rocking up to a law firm in a pair of flats/pumps and see the reaction….

Anonymous

Yes, its sad that some women feel pressurised into believing that is the norm. I would definitely recommend rocking up in flats or pumps – nothing will happen.

Anon

What will happen is that the woman will be criticised. Heels only for the professional workplace. And I am a female solicitor who has been on the receiving end of this. As have many of my female friends with the same or similar jobs.

Anonymous

Nothing would happen.

Who criticised you and your friends and what did they say?

Anon

HR informed me that I shouldn’t wear flats and that heels were what was required, even though my contract was silent on this. Same with my friends. Outrageous but there it is.

Anonymous

If true, that was someone in HR acting outside of their authority, and really is outrageous. Just ignore them.

Was the criticism of your friends exactly the same, and was it from HR in each case?

Anon

They said they were raising this with me because it was the firm’s policy as encouraged by the partners. As I say, my contract was silent on this. My friends had the same conversations, yes.

Anonymous

They had no right to do so if that was the case. Just ignore people like that. The partners may well not even know HR are telling people that.

With your friends, was it HR having the conversation as well? Who were your friends told was encouraging high heels (if they weren’t in a law firm it probably wouldn’t be partners?

Anon

Sadly, It doesn’t make sense to suggest that the partners didn’t know. HR has no interest in promoting a non existent policy. They could lose their jobs, otherwise. In my experience, HR stick slavishly to the party line. Some of my friends who have been on the receiving end of this were other solicitors; one is in a hedge fund in a non legal role. In each case, the conversation was with HR.

Anonymous

Thanks for the information.

I disagree that partners would necessarily know about things like this. HR are often power-crazed and abuse their position. Im aware of many cases where HR have wrongly used their position to bully people, often against company policy. They wouldn’t lose their jobs if they were caught telling female staff to wear high heels, more than likely they’d pretend they thought it was company policy.

If what you describe happens to you or your friends again just ignore it.

With your friends, did HR claim that it was firm policy in each case, and who did they say was encouraging it – partners or someone else?

Anon

Thank you. But they told me and others that they were acting on the instructions of partners to implement a particular policy. If that was a lie, they would lose their job. Unlikely they would make something like that up. To answer your question, yes and it was the partners.

Anonymous

HR make things up all the time and don’t get fired. In the unlikely event they were challenged, they would just say that they thought it was policy or even lie that someone told them.

I think that what has happened is that someone in HR told you something they shouldn’t have. The likelihood is that the partners didn’t know anything about it. I don’t think that the exact same thing happened to your friends, the chances are just too remote. More likely they heard what had happened to you and had an experience of their own which wasn’t quite the same but has distorted in a type of groupthink. Anyway, if what you describe happens again just ignore it.

Anon

It’s been useful to bounce this off you, and thanks. I think it more likely than not that HR were implementing official policy. It is certainly consistent with custom across the City. And my friends are adamant that the same conversations happened. Anyhow, we can agree to disagree, whilst acknowledging that the policy of heels only in the professional workspace is pretty awful. Good on Lady Hale for calling it out. I wish she had done half as much for the country’s jurispudence.

Anonymous

That’s alright, any time. I think we agree that any policy (should it exist, although there’s nothing to suggest they do) insisting that women wear high heels in the professional workplace would be wrong. Where we disagree is that when HR commented on you not wearing heels, they were most likely not being told by anyone else to say this as it wasn’t official policy. It certainly isn’t the custom in the City for women to wear heels, it’s a choice where it happens. As for your friends, they may have been adamant about what they said, but I think if you go back over their exact words their experiences would probably have differed from yours. Lady Hale was a good judge and a trailblazer in many ways, but she got it wrong here and the effect has been for women to question what they wear. My advice to any woman criticised for wearing heels is to ignore the criticism, it is highly likely to be coming from someone who won’t have the authority to do anything about it.

Anon

Thanks again. I showed my friends our exchange. They said their experiences did not differ from mine. You say there is “nothing” to suggest the policy. This isn’t right, as I have shown you evidence of such a policy. Short of being able to point to a written policy, if HR tell you that they are enforcing a policy coming from the partners, that is evidence. In any event, I can tell you that, as a woman, it is very much the custom that women wear shoes with heals in the City and other professional environments. You might wear flats or trainers into the office, and back home again, but you change on arrival. I am not sure I will follow advice – albeit given in good faith – which tells me to ignore official office policy. At least not at my stage of career. In my 50s, maybe!

Healer

I find astonishing that you think the footwear in question is spelt ‘heals’, you used this spelling in your posts at 9:42 16 Jan and 13:57 14 Jan (there are further uses of this erroneous spelling but they may be attributable to someone else).

Anonymous

That’s allright. Your friends’ experiences won’t have been exactly the same as yours. Perhaps they (the solicitor and the one at the hedge fund) could describe on here what happened so the similarities and differences can be seen. If true, what you have described is evidence of HR telling you not to wear high heels, not evidence of any official policy. It’s very common for HR to give ‘advice’ which is not part of any company policy, they can always deny it afterwards or pretend that they thiugh the advice was correct. Best just to ignore them. Not only women will tell you that it isn’t the custom to wear high heels in the City or professional environment. I can only give advice in good faith, if its only HR who told you not to wear heels you wouldn’t be going against official office policy and you could end up teetering around on high heels until your 50s unnecessarily!

Anon

“If true, what you have described is evidence of HR telling you not to wear high heels, not evidence of any official policy.” Not quite: since HR said that it is official policy, then what they said to me and my friends is prima facie evidence of that policy. (The weight of that evidence is another issue.) The experiences were as follows. In the case of the solicitor, who is at a silver circle firm, the head of HR called her on the telephone and told her that a partner had seen her in flats, and it was firm policy to wear heels. As regards the friend in the hedge fund, she spoke to a member of the HR team during her induction and asked whether flats were acceptable. She was told that the official policy was that heels had to be worn, and that this was at the direction of the partners; the HR rep said she felt embarrassed to relay the message.

Anonymous

Thanks again, and thanks for the further details. HR saying something is official policy is not the same as it actually being official policy, I can’t emphasise that enough. In your case, if true, I would advise ignoring what the HR person said, as there is nothing to suggest it was actually policy, and the chances are that the partners had no idea that the HR person was saying that. For the solicitor friend, if true, I would advise asking for sight of policy. Regarding the hedge fund friend, I’d advise quietly ignoring the ‘policy’ and if anything happened asking to see it.

Anon

Thank you.

“HR saying something is official policy is not the same as it actually being official policy….” Agreed, but it is evidence of that policy.

“….there is nothing to suggest it was actually policy….” Yes, there is the evidence afforded by HR – see above.

“……I would advise asking for sight of policy….” A policy does not have to be written for it to be a policy.

Anonymous

No problem.

HR saying there is a policy isn’t evidence if the existence of the policy. So HR saying there is a policy is nothing to suggest the policy exists.

Policies should be written. It is highly unlikely there is a policy at a silver circle firm requiring women to wear high heels, even less so that it is unwritten. If someone says to your friend that there is a policy then I’d advise asking for sight of the policy. If there is a policy then it will be referenced to. If the person says it’s an unwritten policy then ask for something in writing.

Anon

What HR said to me is prima facie evidence of the existence of a policy and its terms. The weight to be ascribed to that evidence is a different thing.

(The way to test this is as follows. Suppose it was unlawful for there to be a policy that heeled shoes should be worn. If I came to you for legal advice, saying that I had been on the receiving end of such a policy, you would ask me whether I had any evidence of this. If I recounted to you my exchange with HR, unless you were giving negligent advice, you would say that this amounted to prima facie evidence of the policy, and certainly sufficient evidence to withstand a summary judgment application. Again, unless you were giving negligent advice, you would warn me that this evidence might amount to hearsay, and would in any event be tested under cross-examination, which may affect its weight.)

I agree with you that policies should not be unwritten, but you would be surprised how many are not. I am a senior associate at a Magic Circle firm, and many policies are unwritten. For example, it is a written policy that male lawyers have to wear ties at all times, but an unwritten one that they do not have to wear them when not meeting clients; it is also a policy that male lawyers should wear black shoes with a suit, but that is not written anywhere. I should add that the policy at my firm is not that we have to wear high heels, but heels; flats are not allowed.

Anonymous

No, what HR told you was them saying there was a policy, not evidence that there was such a policy. Never underestimate how often HR say things which are outside their authority and which they shouldn’t be saying and which partners know nothing about. I would expect that if you claimed that someone in HR told you of a policy and that there was nothing in writing to support that policy, and the firm denied that such a policy existed, then in the absence of any other evidence the claim would be struck out, and probably on the papers. Another way to look at it is to imagine someone in HR told that it was company policy to come into work dressed as Mickey Mouse. This isn’t evidence that it is company policy to come into work dressed as Mickey Mouse, and any claim that it was would be unlikely to be entertained.

The examples you give of “unwritten” policies aren’t actually policies. They could be ignored, and if the firm wanted to enforce them, it would have to put something in writing. It isn’t clear whether the “policy” you refer to on heels and flats is written or not, but if there was no written policy you would be perfectly entitled to ask for sight of something in writing setting out requirements from someone with the appropriate authority.

Monty

Jan 16@5.25pm: you absolutely owned the intellectually dishonest troll Jan 16 @3.20pm. The response at Jan 16@6.27pm is laughable. In particular, the notion that a case involving matters of contested fact might be suitable for summary judgment/strike out disposal. Watching you debate has been a model example of how to lure your opponent into an impossible position, where they either admit they are wrong or (as with Jan 16@3.20pm and @6.27pm) they cannot accept they are beaten, and behave like the Knight in the Monty Python’s Holy Grail after his legs and arms have been chopped off. I am tempted to say “More, please”, but you should not feed the troll.

Anon

Actually I thought it was good advice, taken and received in good faith.

The suggestion that courts wouldn’t dispose of baseless cases via summary judgement or strike out is of course laughable.

Anonymous

Like the Bar’s pathetic attempt at a “survey”, the allegation was complete bollocks.

(6)(3)

Ryan

Hale has a garish tramp stamp but has always kept that a secret. I think it is just an issue of appearance and how you come across – some things are just a bit more in your face than others eh

(5)(1)

Anonymous

Not true – as you’ve admitted.

(0)(0)

Ryan

Where?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Earlier

(0)(0)

Ryan

Where earlier?

Anonymous

I’m assuming you’ve commented on LC before at some point under an alternative name.

Ryan

Where not true?

Anonymous

I didn’t say where not true, I said ‘earlier’. Are you maintaining Hale has a tattoo on her lower back in spite of the other posts?

There’s nothing big or clever about posting using your fist name only and then disappearing anonymously into the ether when you can’t maintain your point and it contradicts those earlier posts.

Ryan

Where admit not true?

Anon

Why not admit it is not true?

Anonymous

“Barrister
Jan 14 2020 10:50am

Her views are out of date- but not by more than 10 years for lawyers, and probably not by more than 2 or 3 years for receptionists. The issue of receptionists for City firms being required to wear heels and make up was in the news a couple of years ago. I doubt any major city firms still require it – given how popular opinion has turned against such practices in the last 2 or so years especially. Things are changing fast in corporate culture, not before time. Daytime high heels are dying out among London professionals imho.”

If Hale had a tattoo it would completely undermine (and be inconsistent) with your point

Ryan

Where admit not true?

Anon

“Requiring neatness, tidiness, cleanliness is one thing, requiring a particular image is another.”

Think about this distinction. Why would neatness be important if not for the image associated with it? Hale’s comments are fatuous in the extreme.

(2)(1)

Anon

“Think about this distinction.”

No

(0)(0)

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