When people think “lawyer,” they almost always instantly think of that sleek, sophisticated professional look that you’d see on television. In reality, that look is pretty accurate to how lawyers strive to look. However, it isn’t always that simple and a lot of lawyers don’t quite know where to start. While there are lawyers that are already looking sharp and well-dressed, there are many that aren’t quite there and it can potentially be keeping them from reaching the full potential in their careers.
Taking pride in your appearance as a lawyer is one of the easier steps you can take to boost your confidence and credibility, which is essential to being successful. Let’s take a look at what it means to dress as a lawyer and discuss some simple tips and changes that you can make in your wardrobe.
Why is Appearance so Important for Lawyers?
Before we take a look at style tips and getting your wardrobe up to par, it’s important to understand why being well-dressed is so crucial when it comes to career advancement and success as a lawyer.
Your image has a huge impact on the reputation of yourself and your firm as a whole. If you’re looking sloppy and not put together, potential clients and colleagues might believe that you aren’t a serious person - if you aren’t taking pride in your appearance, you probably don’t take pride in the quality of work that you do.
You want clients and employers to see you as being confident, trustworthy and successful It’s amazing how much your image influences others’ perception. You want clients and employers to buy your service, and this is why it’s so essential to look the part.
How to Dress as a Lawyer
While styles and trends in society are ever-changing and becoming increasingly more casual, working in law has remained a very conservative and serious profession; as has the dress code.
It’s important to note that the style itself may vary a bit depending on your location, firm and area of practice. However, the general rule of thumb is that it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed, especially in the early stages of your career.
Dressing for Your Specific Practice
As a lawyer, first impressions are vital and you want to instantly give off the impression of being competent and credible. This means dressing appropriately for the type of spaces and clients you’re working with.
Consider the type of clients that you’ll be working with. For example, when you’re working with high-profile divorce case clients, they would expect you to look very polished and high-class. On the other hand, it might be a bit more appropriate to slightly dress down when working with lower-profile cases and those clients. Dressing the part helps to gain trust and confidence from your ideal client when they’re deciding whether or not they want you to take care of them.
Additionally, if you’re dressed inappropriately for the situation, your look can distract your client. For instance, if you’re underdressed or not looking put together, the client won’t be focused on your qualifications or knowledge.
Save the Fashion Statements for the Weekend
A common misconception is that you have to stand out to be considered stylish. If you like to wear unique pieces, wild patterns, and loud colors on your days off, you might be tempted to let that bleed over into your work wardrobe. But the office and the courtroom are not the places you want to be taking fashion risks - it can be very distracting and potentially off-putting depending on the firm's culture.
You don’t want others to think that you’re trying too hard or wanting attention. This is not at all to say that you can’t let your personality reflect in your clothes. You can do this by throwing in a small pop of color or a unique texture here and there. Let your knowledge and skills be what people remember you for, not your wild fashion.
Formal Attire or Business Casual
As a lawyer, you’ll almost always be dressing either formally or in business casual. Again, depending on your working setting and clients, one will be more appropriate for you. If you don’t know yet, it’s always safest to go formal and be overdressed than under.
If you’re working in a big law firm, formal business attire is the expected dress code. For women attorneys, either a pantsuit or skirt with a suit jacket is appropriate. The colors should be dark or neutral, and brighter colored tops can be worn with a skirt. For men, formal would be a dark-suit in black, grey or navy blue. Under the suit jacket you would wear a light-colored dress shirt with a tie.
Smaller firms - and some large ones on Fridays - allow for business casual attire. For men this could be a button-up dress shirt with slacks and no jacket, or even a polo shirt. Women can wear a blouse with no suit jacket or a casual pair of pants.
Don’t mistake business casual as simple just casual or an excuse not to put any effort in. Make sure your outfits are clean and free of wrinkles, and your hair - and makeup if you decide to wear it - is well groomed and appropriate. Also, make sure you don't have any important meetings. The meetings are what makes you dress up and what usually require a different dress code from other professionals.
Fashion Ideas and Tips for Male Lawyers
As a male lawyer, even in entry-level positions, you can never go wrong with a well tailored suit and tie. Many legal career experts even suggest that entry-level lawyers dress in a formal suit, even if they work in a business casual environment or where other associates dress down.
With suits and pants, the best way to ensure you’re looking your best is to have them professionally tailored. A tailor will measure and customize the fit of your clothes so that it fits your body shape and size perfectly. This will make you feel confident and ready to take on your career.
Let’s look at some of the must-have pieces and the do’s and don’ts.
Whether you’re working in a business casual or formal dress code environment, you absolutely need to have a good selection of dress shirts on hand. These can be worn under your suit jacket with a tie or on their own for a more dressed down look. Be sure to keep your dress shirts well-pressed and free of wrinkles. You can do this yourself or have them dry cleaned.
While the suits should be darker colors, you have some room for creativity with your dress shirt. You might choose classic white or soft blue, but you can also mix it up with some soft pastel colors as well -- just make sure it’s appropriate for your specific environment and don’t get too carried away.
Ties are the finishing piece to any suit and are another opportunity to show a little style. But again, don’t get too crazy with it. Mix it up with a unique --but not too flashy -- print design or a subtle texture. The safest colors for a formal look are navy, red, or burgundy. If you’re going for a more business casual look, you might try out a skinny tie in woven material. There are so many options when it comes to ties, but before going for that novelty poker print tie, ask yourself, “is this appropriate?”
Well-polished brown or black leather dress shoes are ideal for both formal and business casual styles. You don’t want people focusing their attention on your feet, so try to keep it simple. If you don’t like the idea of shiny shoes, you can go for a matte finish, but just be sure that they’re still dressy enough. Invest in one or two good pairs of shoes and they should last you a very long time - and make sure you have a matching belt.
Depending on your office culture, you might be able to get away with some of the newer dress sneakers. These might be a good option if you’re on your feet a lot but still want to look professional.
Now that your outfit is looking sharp and professional, finish it off with well groomed hair. Keep your hair cut and trimmed, and styled. Styling doesn’t have to be too complicated -- simply keep it combed and in place with product if needed.
You should also have your facial hair on point at all times. If you choose to have a beard or mustache, keep it clean and well-groomed, avoiding stubble. If keeping up with the trimming and shaping doesn’t seem like something you’ll want to do, it’s easier to just keep a clean face.
Fashion Ideas and Tips for Female Lawyers
Women have a lot more options when it comes to what they can wear as a lawyer. While men are stuck with suits and pants. Women branch out with dress skirts, dresses and pantsuits.
While they might have more options, female lawyers are still expected to stick to the same professional dress code.
Let’s talk about some wardrobe ideas and tips to help female lawyers look polished and professional.
Suits & Blazers
Suits aren’t just for men, and they’re really your most formal option as a female lawyer. This can be either a pantsuit with a matching blazer and pants or a blazer and smart skirt. If you choose to go with a suit, choose a darker tone. Underneath the blazer, a button-blouse in a lighter color helps to add some contrast. When in doubt, this is a great look to go to in any setting.
Even if you aren’t wearing a suit, a blazer is always a good piece to have on hand in your office. It’s a quick option that you can just throw on to sharpen up any outfit should an unexpected meeting or visit pop up.
As mentioned earlier in the men’s section, it’s a good idea to have your suits tailored to fit you perfectly. Nothing says unprofessional like a baggy, ill-fitting blazer or trousers.
A dress is a good option if you want something a bit more feminine. There are many great dress styles and materials that are very professional and still conservative enough. You might do with a long sleeve dress with a simple belt or a sleeveless dress with a cardigan or blazer over it. Try not to go with a dress that’s too flowy -- a straight bottom or one that tapers inward are acceptable.
When it comes to dresses and skirts, it’s very important that they be an appropriate length. Be certain that your dress or skirt is not too long, or too short. Something very long -- like a maxi skirt -- isn’t quite going to have that professional look you’re going for. A good rule of thumb is to choose a length within 2-3 inches of your knee.
While heels may be the go-to for a law profession, make sure you have comfortable ones that are easy to walk in. Comfortable shoes are the top priority when you're on-the-go in between meetings. If heels aren’t a great option, some good choices would be wedges, flats or kitten heels. If you really like the idea of heels but don’t want to walk around in them all day, keep a pair in your office to change into for consultations or meetings. Dark colors are ideal, but you might be able to get away with a bolder color depending on your office environment.
Makeup can be a great way to polish off your look and express yourself, but don’t go overboard. Really use makeup to enhance your natural features and go for a clean look. It may be appropriate to wear a pop of color on your lips, but be sure to keep your eye makeup lighter to help balance the look. Dark eyes and dark or bold lips may be dramatic for a lawyer. But then again, make sure to observe your office culture to know for sure.
When in doubt, ask the advice of your colleagues and maybe schedule a consultation with a professional makeup artist to give you some tips on application and colors to compliment your skin tone. A modest look is always safe until you know what’s acceptable in your firm.
A lot of female lawyers prefer to keep a short haircut -- shoulder length or shorter -- because it’s easier to keep it in order and is generally more conservative. Longer hair can be more difficult to style and keep in place, but if you prefer to keep your hair long, keep it well-styled and pulled back from your face. A tidy ponytail might be a good option.
What to Wear to the Courtroom
Regardless of how you and colleagues dress in the office, the courtroom is where the magic happens and where you really want to look your best. Formal business attire is the expected dress code for lawyers and it’s absolutely not the time to be too flashy or make a fashion statement. You want to come across as credible and professional.
For both men and women, dark-colored suits are ideal. If you know you’re going to be in court tomorrow, prepare your best suit the day or night before. Have it well-pressed and on a hanger. For women, be sure to wear closed-toed shoes and refrain from wearing distracting jewelry.
When you’re in court, think of how many first impressions you’re making. Some of these people could be future clients, employers and colleagues. This is the place to put your best foot forward and really show how professional you are.
Your appearance as a lawyer is essential when it comes to feeling confident and making great first impressions at all points in your career. Regardless of your preferred style outside of work, the office and courtroom are where you should really make an effort to dress appropriately and take pride in your image.
There’s some room to show your personality, but remember that it’s generally a more conservative profession. Pay attention to how your colleagues dress and the type of clients that you’ll be working with. Depending on your environment, dress codes might be more casual or strict, but when in doubt, aim for formal -- and never underestimate the power of a well-tailored suit.