Clerkships

25 04 2008

Predicting how to dress for a clerkship is a tricky thing to do because it depends almost entirely on the judge you work for. I’ve heard of judges who require attire ranging from business formal to jeans and a T-shirt.  On your first day, the safest thing to do is to wear a suit and take it from there. Once you get started, you should take your cues from the judge you clerk for, the other clerks, and the other judges on the court.

In my experience, clerks are frequently in and out of the courtroom so, in general, you should opt for more formal attire. If the judge does not require business formal attire on a regular basis, you should keep a suit on hand, in case you want to (or have to) go to court.

Despite the wide variation in clerkship attire, the average dress code seems to be conservative business casual.

Here’s what you do:

For the Ladies. On the bottom, go with pants or a conservative skirt (just below the knee is best). One the top, wear a collared shirt or sweater (or both). Stick to dark colors and conservative styles. Clothes that are less likely to be acceptable include: print dresses, flowy colorful skirts, Capri pants, sleeveless shirts, open-toed shoes, and shoes with a high heel. Keep makeup natural-looking and accessories conservative.

For the Gentlemen. Men should wear dress shirts and dark colored slacks (gray, brown, black, and navy). Maybe throw a sweater on over it. Stick with conservative black or brown leather shoes. Don’t wear khakis, polo shirts, or tennis shoes. Avoid jewelry other than a watch and wedding ring. And finally, if you’re starting work right out of school, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a haircut. Yes, that means you.

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Going to Court

25 04 2008

Ah court. A symbol of justice, the litigator’s Holy Grail, and the setting of so many acclaimed television dramas. Courts not only form the core of the American legal tradition but hold an iconic place in American society as a whole. And if we learned anything from Judge Larry Seidlin in the Anna Nicole Smith case, it’s that court is awesome.

But what are you going to wear?

Suit Up. For those who are unfamiliar, court tends to be a pretty formal place. There are tight security systems, strict rules of procedure, judges in flowing robes, and gavels. Out of respect to the court, attorneys are expected to wear suits at all times when in the courtroom. Whether you are responsible for giving an impassioned closing statement to a jury or a third-string trial attorney who spends most of game time on the bench, the suit is required.

Some Caveats

1) Just Visiting. If you are visiting a court for entertainment (or education) and plan to spend the whole time sitting in the back, then nice business causal will suffice. Wear nice shoes, slacks (or a knee length skirt) and a sweater or collared shirt.

2) You’re Not Working as a Lawyer. Another exception to the suit rule is if you are working for a court or a court-related agency but are not working as a lawyer. If, for example, you work for child services or in the court intake office, the rule of thumb for the courtroom is usually conservative business casual (at least in the courts where I’ve worked). The actual office you work in may be less formal, even if it’s in the courthouse, but you should dress more formally on days where you know you will be before a judge.

3) Define “suit.” While attorneys are required to wear a suit to court, the combination of clothing that is considered a suit depends on who you work for and what kind of court you are in. By way of example, I knew several attorneys working in legal services that went into housing court on a regular basis wearing flowing black pants, a black T-shirt and a gray blazer. I’ve also heard of some Public Defenders offices with a similar style. So matching—not always necessary. It’s not that I’m recommending this look, but FYI you can save the Armani for SCOTUS.





Legal Services Offices and NGOs

18 04 2008

Not all lawyers wear suits.

Last summer I worked at a firm in New York that offered us the opportunity to do a two-week rotation in a legal services office, and I decided to take it. After spending two months in a cushy office in Midtown Manhattan, I threw on a pair of gray slacks, a white collared shirt, and some black and white tweed pumps and headed to Brooklyn. I showed up at the legal services office to a room full of people in jeans, T-shirts and flip flops, and was greeted with, “oh, you must be the new girl from the firm.”

I know it’s obvious, but for the sake of emphasis it’s good to keep in mind that what it is appropriate to wear in one context may not be appropriate in another.

Casual is the Norm

In the wide spectrum of legal contexts that you may encounter, the non-profit sector tends to be the least exacting when it comes to clothes. There may be offices that require more formal attire, but as a general rule, legal services offices and non-profit organizations have casual dress codes. One of my former supervisors described the dress code this way: some lawyers dress up to make their clients feel respected. In order to make our clients feel respected, we treat them with respect.

What You Should Wear

First, as always, try to find out from someone in the office what the dress code is. You don’t want to show up in jeans if everyone else is in biz cas.

If the firm dress code is casual, I recommend wearing clothes that are slightly more formal than the clothes worn by the supervising attorneys. Younger associates have the obvious disadvantage of looking less experienced and this can be exacerbated if you show up to work every day in jeans, flip flops and a T-shirt; even if this outfit is technically acceptable in the office. The trick is to wear clothes that are nice enough to inspire confidence in your clients but not so formal that you make your clients feel uncomfortable or intimidated.

Acceptable clothing choices include: nice jeans, khakis, sweaters, collared shirts, blouses, polos and nicer cotton shirts.

Acceptable shoe choices usually include sneakers, dress shoes, flats, and heels.

In some offices, tank tops, flip flops, T-shirts, uggs and the like are also acceptable, but you should get a good read on the office style before you venture into these more casual clothing choices. Even if these options are permitted, I recommend using them sparingly, and avoiding them when you have client meetings.

Finally, most legal services jobs require frequent court appearances, so be sure to keep a suit in the office.

What You Should Not Wear

Casual, but not too casual. Because you are still working with clients and other lawyers, it’s a good idea not to get too carried away with casualness. With that in mind, try to avoid the following:

  • Clothes with holes, rips or stains.
  • Clothes with offensive logos or writing.
  • Sweats or pajamas.
  • Clothing that is really revealing.

In general, just try to look nice. Remember that no matter where you are, you’re still a professional and your wardrobe should reflect that.





Business Casual Basics

23 03 2008

Business casual is perhaps the least well-understood genre of clothing today. The term has been used to encompass everything from jeans and polo shirts to suits without ties and varies by region, by industry, and by office. Here is some advice on navigating the genre and some tips for outfits that can’t go wrong, no matter where you are.

A brief history of business casual. In the dawn of the business casual age, the term simply meant a suit without a jacket. Then in the 1990s, thanks to the dotcom boom (and the whole grunge era) business casual got way more casual, to be the point of just being frumpy. Now employers are reeling it in, and demanding more professional dress.

Err on the side of business, not casual. The number one mistake that young professionals make in choosing clothing is dressing too casually. This is an especially bad blunder because most of us already look too young to be in the profession (especially if, like me, you look like you could still be in high school). The best strategy you can use to minimize the appearance of inexperience is to dress more formally. The bottom line is, if you want to be taken seriously as a professional, you’re going to have to step up your game.

Clothes that do NOT qualify as business casual:

  • Uggs
  • Fleeces
  • Flip Flops
  • Jeans (if your office allows jeans, the dress code is smart casual, not business casual)
  • Sweats of any kind
  • Shorts

Spend the Time and the Money. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they don’t like buying work clothes so they do it as quickly and cheaply as possible. That is a mistake. The bottom line is that you are going to spend the rest of your life in this genre of clothing, so you should invest some time and money now to get clothes that you like and that look good.

On the positive side, once you know what to look for, business casual can be comfortable, flattering, and even a little edgy.





The Law Firm Event

6 03 2008

Law firm events: free food, free drinks, and all the highlighters and Starbucks cards you can carry. Yes, good times are had by all. But what should you wear?

Law firm receptions vary a lot in their dress code so the best way to know what to wear is to check beforehand. Firms usually put the attire on the advertisement for the event, but if they don’t, send a quick email to the contact person at the firm so you don’t show up over- or underdressed. If you can’t find any information on the attire, your default should be business casual.

1L Events

If you are anything like I was as an entering law student, you didn’t know the name of a single firm before coming to law school. The purpose of the 1L reception is to give you a chance to learn something about the firms so you have an idea of where you might like to work, come OCI.

What You Should Wear: The norm for 1L firm receptions is business casual. Men should wear slacks, a collared shirt, and nice shoes. No ties or jackets necessary. Women can wear slacks or a nice skirt; a collared shirt, blouse or sweater; and nice shoes (I would go with pumps or boots). Stay away from anything too revealing or casual. This means no fleeces, uggs, or jeans. No, not even your dark jeans.

2L Events

During interview season (both on campus and during flyout week), firms usually hold receptions after a day of interviews to get to know the candidates a little bit better. 2L firm events, unlike1L receptions, are a chance for employers to continue to evaluate whether you are right for their firm. Although not as formal as the interview, this is another opportunity for you to make a good impression on recruiters. So turn on the charm and remember to be on your best behavior.

What You Should Wear: You should always check the dress code before the event; however, because it is interview season, it is safer to assume that the attire is business formal rather than business casual (so don’t change out of that suit the second the interview is over). The attorneys, having just interviewed you, are more likely to be in suits, and you do not want to be dressed more casually than they are.

3L Events

You went through the interview process, you got some offers, you worked at a firm all summer, and now they have offered you a permanent position. Yes, we’re all very proud of you. Now the only thing left to do is go to dinner.

What You Should Wear: 3L firm events are the least formal of the three, since the firm already knows you and likes you. These events are usually either casual or business casual, but you should still check in advance.

If the event is casual, this does not mean you should show up in ripped jeans, flip flops and a hoodie (unless it’s a Quinn Emmanuel event, in which case I highly recommend wearing flip flops, preferably theirs).

For women, I recommend wearing a classy pair of dark jeans (like black skinny jeans), a sweater or blouse, and nice flats or boots. You could wear heels, too, as long as they aren’t ridiculous, but avoid sneakers and flip flops. For men, I recommend dark jeans, a collared shirt or sweater, and leather shoes. Here’s the secret: law firm casual is really just business casual with jeans instead of slacks. Business on the top, party on the bottom.






The Job Interview

8 02 2008

Job interviews are one place where it pays to look good. Sure, employers are looking at your grades, extracurricular activities, and experience, but they are also assessing whether you can fit in in a professional environment. After all, your qualifications could just be sent to them over email. Looking professional during an interview can’t get you a job, but looking unprofessional can certainly lose you one, so here are tips on how to dress to impress.

What You Should Wear

The ground rules for interviews are:

  1. Wear a suit. It doesn’t matter if you’re interviewing for a law firm, a clerkship, a government position or an NGO. Everyone’s gotta wear one.
  2. Don’t be gross: shower, shave, brush your teeth, brush your hair, wear deodorant. You know, all that stuff you should be doing anyway.
  3. Err on the conservative side.


For the Ladies

Rules

  • Suit Colors: black, gray, navy
  • Suit Style: pantsuit or knee length skirt (just above or just below the knee) with pantyhose, and a one or two button jacket
  • Shirt: a blouse, shell, or collared button up shirt that matches the suit
  • Shoes: pumps or slingbacks with a one or two inch heel
  • Jewelry, hair, makeup, and nails: look nice but nothing distracting

Recommendations

Suits. Suits for women are one of the hardest things to get right. If the suit is too loose, you look frumpy; if the suit is too tight, you look unprofessional. It’s a fine line. Here’s some advice on walking that line:

First, know where to shop.

Department stores like Macy’s and Filenes’s Basement cater mostly to older women, so the cuts are more conservative and tend not to be as flattering on younger people. If you go to a department store, stick with brands like Tahari and Theory, which are better fitted to the 20-something body type. Otherwise, try stores that make clothes targeted to young professionals like JCrew, Banana Republic, and Club Monaco. Although it may be tempting price-wise, I would shy away from stores like Express and H&M because they tend to use a visibly cheaper quality of fabric.

Second, buy the right size.

I know it sounds obvious, but some people buy sizes that don’t really fit them assuming that they will have the suit tailored later on. If a suit does not fit correctly to begin with, odds are that tailoring will not be able to wholly correct the fit. You want to get as close to the right fit as possible to begin with, and let tailoring take care of the details at the end.

Third, get it tailored.

The suit should show the shape of your body without being tightly pressed against your skin. If you can see the outline of your underwear, it’s too tight.

Shirts. This is really the place to be creative if you want to be. You can wear a collared shirt, a shell, or a blouse and you can experiment with bolder colors (red is a good one) and patterns, as long as (a) it matches the suit; and (b) you avoid anything too crazy like neon and animal print.

Shoes. Although you do have some options for shoes, the safest bet is to go with a classic black two-inch pointy toe pump. If you want to get more creative, you can branch out to a gray or brown shoe, a rounder toe, or a slingback. You can get away with a slightly higher heel if the shoe looks more conservative (think Kenneth Cole instead of Guess) but you should not wear shoes with no heel at all. Unfortunately for women who hate wearing heels, flats do not work well with suits, and even nice flats tend to look too casual for an interview.

Jewelry. Keep it simple. Nothing too big, dangly, shiny or bright. Oh, and you should probably take out your facial piercings (I had to remove my eyebrow ring before interviews and it was a little tragic but at the end of the day, it’s probably better to be employed). For earrings I would keep it to small silver or gold hoops, studs, or earrings with only a tiny bit of dangle. Necklaces should be similarly low key. Pearls are appropriate but they are very east coast so I wouldn’t wear them to California interviews.

Hair. You can leave it down as long as it looks well groomed and you won’t fuss with it during the interview. Otherwise, pull it back with a clip (rather than a hair band or scrunchie) or put it in a neat bun.

Makeup. Think Bobbi Brown, not Mac. I would recommend wearing a little bit of makeup to the interview if it helps you look more polished. Conceal blemishes and maybe use a light foundation. You can add a natural shade of eye shadow and some light eyeliner (opt for brown over black) and mascara. Add blush and lipstick, too, but only lightly and in natural shades.

Nails. You don’t need to get a manicure to interview but you should at least make sure your nails are clean and well trimmed. If you do go the manicure route, I recommend a French manicure or just polish. If you want color, shy away from colors that say, “I’m 14” or “I’m goth.”

For the Gentlemen

Rules

  • Suit Colors: navy and dark gray, only wear a black suit if it’s all you have
  • Suit Style: single breasted, two or three buttons (preferably two)
  • Shirt: white or oxford blue
  • Tie: choose a color that contrasts with, but compliments, the shirt and suit
  • Shoes: dark leather business shoes
  • Belts: should match your shoes
  • Socks: the darker the better
  • Jewelry: think twice about anything more than a watch and a wedding ring

Recommendations

Suits. A four step process for suiting:

First, know where to shop.

Much like suits for women, most men’s suits found at department stores and stores like Brooks Brothers are intended for people who are older and have larger frames. If you have a broader frame, going to a store like Brooks Brothers would be totally fine. To find suits that are made to fit smaller or slimmer people, we recommend shopping at European or international stores like Benetton, French Connection, Paul Smith, and Club Monaco. You can also go to department stores like Barney’s and Century 21, which carry European-cut suits. For suits on the cheaper side, you could try large suit-only stores like Men’s Warehouse, which have a broad selection of suits and sizes.

Second, pick the right style.

In terms of suit style, I recommend the single-breasted two button suit. According to OCS, double-breasted suits are less flattering on men and are not typically worn in law offices. Plus, as far as I’m concerned, they just look silly. Two button suits look better on people with a normal to shorter height range. Taller men (those 6’2” and above) could pull of the three button suit, but even then they are sometimes unflattering, so I would suggest sticking to the two button regardless of height.

Third, buy the right size.

I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve seen walking to interviews swimming in their suits. This is not a good look. I know some people buy sizes that don’t really fit them assuming that they will have the suit tailored later on but if a suit does not fit correctly to begin with, odds are that tailoring will not be able to wholly correct the fit. You want to get as close to the right fit as possible to begin with, and let tailoring take care of the details at the end.

Fourth, get it tailored.

A cheap suit plus a great tailor is a better bargain than an expensive suit and a lousy or no tailor. Jackets should fit the body but should be loose enough that you can shake someone’s hand without pulling the suit. Pants should be long enough to cover your socks and have a slight break over the shoe in front. Don’t worry, your tailor will know what that means.

Shirts. If you need to save money, this is the place to go because the suit and the tie are the focal points of the outfit, not the shirt. As far as colors and patterns go, stick with plain white, off-white and blue shirts or shirts with a subtle pinstripe. Again, many shirts are made for older men, so if you get a cut that does not fit you correctly, you should consider having the shirt tailored along with the suit.

Collars: I would recommend shirts with a spread collar over a button down collar (just because the latter style looks a little more stuffy) but either one is appropriate. You should buy shirts with cutaway collars if you plan to use a wider tie knot. Avoid shirts with a soft collar (the floppy looking kind), as they are meant to be casual and are not suit appropriate.

Cuffs: Both double cuff (aka French cuff) and button cuff shirts are appropriate. The button cuff is more conservative than the double cuff.

For pictures and more information on shirt styles, see:

http://www.thomaspink.com/fcp/content/Collars/editorial

Also, check out the size guide:

http://www.thomaspink.com/fcp/content/SizeGuide/editorial

Ties. You should find a tie that contrasts with the colors of the suit and shirt, but still compliments the outfit as a whole. Aim for conservative colors and patterns. If you have trouble putting it all together, most stores that sell suits will be able to put some suit-shirt-tie combinations together for you.

Tie Knots:

  • The four-in-hand: this is the classic tie knot and has the advantage of being the easiest to tie. It is the most commonly used, and is appropriate for any occasion. It works best with wide ties made from heavy fabrics.
  • The half-Windsor: this is the “power tie” knot. It is a little more formal than the four-in-hand but can also be used for any occasion. It works best with wider ties that are made from light to medium fabrics.
  • The Windsor: this is the widest knot and also the most formal. It is appropriate for interviews but I would recommend the half-Windsor over the full one.
  • The small knot: add a little hipster chic to your interview ensemble. This type of knot works best with ties made from thick fabrics and shirts with close-fitting collars.
  • The Prince Albert: this is a classy little knot. It works best with narrow ties made of soft materials.

For pictures and step-by-step instructions on tying ties, see:

http://www.brooksbrothers.com/TieKnots/TieKnots.tem

Shoes and Belts: Both should be dark leather, and they should match each other.

Socks: Stick with black, brown, navy, or dark gray dress socks. I recommend the thinner cotton socks but you could also wear wool.

Jewelry: Wear a nice looking watch and your wedding ring, if you are married. Any piercing (including in your ears) should be removed, at least for the interview. I would also remove any necklaces, bracelets or additional rings.

What You Should Not Wear

Just to reiterate, the interview is not the time to be creative.

The following is a non-exclusive list of things to avoid: white socks, bowties, 4inch stiletto heals, cuff links shaped like Homer Simpson, visible cleavage, your Metallica tie, bright pink scrunchies, top hats, monocles, faux hawks, enormous earrings, anything you’ve worn to an 80s party, anything you’ve worn clubbing. You get the idea.

Final Words of Advice

Be prepared, but don’t sweat the small stuff.

I’ve heard rumors about people bombarding the OCS office with nitpicky questions about the shape of their shirt buttons or the invisible stains on their blouse. While it is important to be attentive to detail, if you’re running straight to OCS every time you pick up your dry cleaning, you are probably worrying too much.

Just remember that at the end of the day, employers are looking at your qualifications, so as long as you look put-together, the little details aren’t as important. One of my friends went the entire interview season without wearing pantyhose and still got offers from all the high ranking law firms. There are a lot of rules on dressing for interviews, but as long as you use some common sense and stay within the general guidelines, you should be just fine.