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How to Dress for a Career in Law

When you choose your career, you aren’t just choosing a job, you’re choosing a whole lifestyle. Broadway actors are going to live a very different life than marketing executives which will look different than someone in the hospitality industry. Regardless of what you do, we can all agree on one thing: you have to look the part. Every job has some sort of dress code expectations. Even when you’re working from home, it’s customary to throw on a sweater or a jacket on your top half for video conferences. What you wear can often inform your mood and help other people take you seriously. For certain careers, this is absolutely essential.

Think of the world of a lawyer. You’re busy all day in litigation, appearing in court, or meeting with clients at your law firm. You need to bring an air of confidence, professionalism, and no-nonsense to the courtroom. When you pursue a career in law, you’ve spent so many grueling years studying and working toward your goal of being a lawyer. Once you’ve made it, you deserve to take a bow and be proud of your accomplishments. Dress like you deserve to be there. An amazing lawyer needs an amazing wardrobe. As you plan your closet for the beginning of your law career, here are just a few tips on how to dress for success.

Know the guidelines.

Because all jobs require different looks and levels of professional attire, understanding the guidelines is your first step. Do your research ahead of time and when you go in for the interview, take note of everyone else’s attire. Does your law firm expect business casual, business formal, or just business professional? While those all sound the same, there are slight differences that make or break the aesthetic. Attention to detail and following the rules are traits every lawyer should have. Make sure you use them in your attire. You want to be out there prosecuting workers’ compensation cases and winning lawsuits, not worrying that you’re underdressed compared to everyone else. It’s okay to ask your boss or others in the office for the specific stipulations to make sure you’re prepared to meet them.

Adjust based on the side of law you practice.

Lawyers wear many different hats. Some days you spend the whole time in your office researching and putting together a case. Other days you’re in court. Other days you’re meeting with your clients individually. Adjust your outfit to fit the needs of the day. For a workers compensation attorney in Chicago, going to meet with a client undergoing medical treatment in the hospital, you may be able to dress in a more approachable way. Then when you’re in a courtroom trying to win the worker’s compensation claim for that personal injury case to cover medical bills, you may want to suit up into something more serious. A great lawyer adjusts and greets each situation in a different way. An executive partner understands these nuances and which practice area demands which look.

Find a style inspiration.

It’s normal to look up to people within your field. You’re more than welcome to borrow their style as well. Honestly, you can turn on the TV and watch any number of shows that revolve around lawyers in a courtroom. Model your look after them. Get the blouse you saw Mariska Hargitay rocking on Law and Order: SVU or try to find a replica of Harvey Specter’s suit from Suits. Your style icons don’t just have to be on-screen either. Maybe you have a close mentor or follow a renowned lawyer like Howard Fensterman and you want to model your look after theirs. Imitation is the highest form of flattery after all. Don’t be afraid to take after those you look up to and the executive partners you want to become.

Attire can be more nuanced for women.

Alright, female lawyers, this one is for you. As with a lot of things in life, you are expected to navigate a tricky, sexist world as a woman in the courtroom. You need to take special care that you are dressing appropriately and in a way that demands respect from everyone in the room, especially your male counterparts. Where men can usually just throw on a suit, you have so many more options. While that can make your wardrobe more fun and interesting, it can also create added minefields to avoid. When looking at work clothes for women, be sure nothing is too flashy or too low cut. Decide if you’re more comfortable in tailored pants or a skirt and pantyhose. When you do add some jewelry, try not to make it too flashy or over the top. Heels are your choice, just make sure you can walk in them efficiently. Ultimately, you need to dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable and confident. Just keep in mind that you may be judged more harshly than the men, so staying on top of your fashion is a good idea.

Pay attention to the little details.

You may think that buying a great suit is all you need to do to look the part, but really, the little details matter. An oversized suit jacket will look sloppy and unprofessional, whereas a custom-fit, a tailored blazer will look a million times better. Manage your accessories, as well. Sine your shoes, match your socks, wear a belt. These are all simple tips, but they go a long way when you’re trying to give off a good impression. Especially at a job where attention to detail can make or break a case, show you have that same care with your attire.

Be careful not to go overboard with accessories.

As important as accessories are, it’s equally important that you don’t go overboard. A courtroom is a place for a simple necklace or a clean watch, not your statement hoop earrings and a comedy belt buckle. A good rule of thumb here is if you’re questioning it, it probably isn’t appropriate. The weekends and your off times are when you’ll want to show off those fun statement pieces, not when you’re reporting to work at the law firm.

Make sure you’re also well-groomed.

When you’re dressing for work, it’s about more than just your clothes and accessories. It’s a good idea to always appeal well-groomed and like you care about your hygiene. If you show negligence with your appearance, how can you expect a client to trust you with their case or pay high attorney fees? Cut your hair, groom your beard, make sure your nails look nice. Doing a little self-care can go a long way toward being a super lawyer that clients trust and judges and lawyers respect.

Bring your confidence as well.

The musical Annie is famous for saying that “you’re never fully dressed without a smile.” So take the words of the red-headed orphan to heart and make sure you always complete your look with confidence and pride. Anyone can show up to a meeting or the courtroom in a suit, but if you really sell it, they’ll have no choice but to take you seriously. When you look great, you feel great. Believe that you can actually conquer the world because you can. Finish your look with that confidence and you’re sure to find your voice as a great lawyer.