"An associate at our firm dressed inappropriately both during work hours and at after-hour firm functions. Her clothes were revealing, unprofessional, and sloppy. She appeared not to understand the difference between business attire and party attire. She did not get an offer to join our firm as a first year associate after law school."
A lawyer's reputation can turn exclusively on his or her ability to look like a professional and to act in a professional manner. Wearing proper attire and adhering to law firm dress code speaks volumes to a lawyer's professionalism and is therefore incredibly important.
I. The Importance Of Professional Attire
Formal, professional attire in a law firm is not optional, particularly when you are new to the firm. Your reputation will not rise and fall with your substantive abilities (thankfully) - rather, impressions will be made based on the professionalism you project through your attire, demeanor, and interpersonal skills.
II. Err On The Side Of Formal Attire
In order to avoid any questions about your professionalism, err on the side of dressing formally. Even where a law firm or other office has a "business casual" or other slightly less formal dress code, this does not amount to a license to dress in a sloppy, revealing or otherwise inappropriate manner. As a rule of thumb, any time you are in doubt, wear a suit. Otherwise, wear conservative, traditional business casual attire (for example, slacks and sweaters with closed toed shoes work nicely for both men and women).
III. Dressing For Work Functions Outside Of Work
In social settings with law firm colleagues, you should also take care to dress in a conservative, professional manner. Cutting edge fashion and outrageous looks will reflect badly on you as a professional and are simply unacceptable in a professional environment, even when socializing. Until you are well-established in your firm, consider that your interactions are akin to an extended interview - your objective is to impress every time.
Desiree Moore is the President and founder of Greenhorn Legal, LLC. Greenhorn Legal offers intensive practical skills training programs for law students and new lawyers as they transition from law school into their legal practices. Ms. Moore is also an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and was an associate at the law firm of K&L Gates. She can be found on Twitter at @greenhornlegal.