Let me start by saying that I realize that dress can be a contentious subject, and that what is appropriate is quite a subjective matter. In my experience, however, I find that the most successful people in the field of law know how to dress the part. I am sure you’ve heard this a hundred times in school; but, I’m here to tell you it is absolutely true in the real world. It’s unfortunate, but you will be judged by your appearance. If it’s not clients, it will be by your boss whose ultimate success as a lawyer hinges largely on professional presentation…starting with you.
Believe it or not, I have heard of legal staffing candidates being immediately sent home from an interview because of inappropriate dress. But, the word “inappropriate” doesn’t always mean the same thing to different people. So, exactly what is expected of legal assistants, paralegals and pretty much anyone working in a law office? Well, if you want to play it safe, dress like a lawyer.
Men and women naturally have a different type of dress code, but the principle is the same. Look around the office to get a feel for the culture, dress and demeanor of the lawyers. If you dress the part, you are much more likely to be taken seriously. Yes, brilliance can shine through a great pair of jeans or sequined nylons, but it will definitely add to the challenge. If you are not a lawyer, you may be seen as more replaceable, so personally, I wouldn’t put it to the test.
I’m a progressive woman, so I realize that my suggestion to keep it conservative and traditional can be difficult to accept. You always have choices. In the field of law, however, you are hired for your intelligence. Being on the cutting edge of fashion, while admirable, is a distraction. Think about the goal. In law, it’s all about being quick, sharp and convincing. Would you really want your impressive cleavage to be the most impressive thing people notice? Of course not. And, neither would (most) the lawyer(s) you work for.
Your appearance should convey confidence, and reflect a look that is polished, sophisticated, and professional. So, what are the “must haves” for your ensemble? You must own a very nice conservative suit, an oversized briefcase and a pad folio. Be sure not to neglect your shoes, hosiery and accessory choices either. With these things, you will always be and appear ready for court. You may not wear a suit every day, but it is critical that you have one hanging in your closet for when you need it. Keep it conservative in style and color, be sure it fits well, and have it clean, pressed and ready to go.
There is a time and place to be fashion-forward, and days that are a little more casual than others. Know your environment, and take your cues from the hand that feeds you!