For years, lawyers have been required to dress conservatively. This is still true in most courtrooms, but it’s relaxed outside of them. That means that if you’re working as a lawyer today, you don’t need to wear suits and ties at all times.
Just be sure that your appearance is appropriate for your work environment. For example, jeans are perfectly fine at a small firm but probably won’t fly at a large law firm. Beyond what you wear, also make sure your office attire is up to par with your surroundings—no wrinkled button-ups or ripped jeans!
What do they do?: Lawyers work for a wide variety of employers, from large corporations to nonprofits. Their responsibilities vary depending on their specialty and employer. In most cases, they’ll be doing some combination of research, negotiation, and litigation—anything from buying real estate to representing clients in court. They may also spend time writing articles, giving speeches, or performing related administrative tasks. Some will specialize in a particular area of law, while others focus on a specific type of client or set of issues.
Why It Matters
A lawyer’s appearance goes far beyond self-expression; it can make a difference in whether you get hired, and if so, what salary and benefits you get. If you want to be taken seriously by your peers and potential clients (or if your dream is to be on trial and cross-examined on live TV), then being presentable is a requirement of your job.
While there are no set industry standards for lawyers’ dress codes, most employers within your state will have rules about appropriate attire in their offices. In general, it’s best to err on modesty: Your office dress code will likely say business casual, so keep that in mind when picking out clothes.
There’s more to your appearance than what you wear, however. Your hair should be clean and styled appropriately, nails manicured but not excessively gaudy or colored. Your shoes should be clean and not worn out; there’s nothing more embarrassing than someone in court (not even opposing counsel) having to point out that your heel is hanging off.
While it may seem like good hygiene for any employee to smell good, paying extra attention to it is especially important for anyone representing your company in a courtroom or at another high-pressure work environment.
What Lawyer Wear
Law students and attorneys should wear clothing appropriate for their workplace and community. If you’re applying for a job, dress as though you’re going to an interview. Jeans and T-shirts might be acceptable in your office, but wearing those same clothes to a hearing or trial will make you appear unprofessional.
Even if it’s not required, dress as you would if going to a job interview—it will show potential employers that you take yourself seriously. People who make a good first impression are more likely to be offered employment or hired by clients.
The best attire for a lawyer typically is similar to that of a business professional. The main difference is that lawyers typically wear suits and ties, not dress shirts and pants. Suits come in different colors and fabrics, including charcoal gray, navy blue, black, and pinstripe; however, it’s usually best to wear dark gray or navy blue to a court or other important events.
You can also wear lighter colors such as light blue or white if you’re interviewing for a job at a private firm. Make sure your clothing fits well so you look professional—no billowing sleeves or pant legs allowed! Iron your clothing before wearing it and always wash and dry your garments before wearing them for an interview or important event. Afterward, hang up any outfit you don’t plan on wearing again right away.
Then take care of loose buttons, cuffs, and hems by tucking them into each other or trimming away excess threads to keep your clothes looking fresh. Avoid wrinkling these clothes by wrapping them gently in plastic wrap after they are washed and placed flat on hangers until ready to wear again.
Avoid using starch because it makes wrinkles harder to remove later on. Likewise, avoid shoulder pads unless required by your profession—they make you appear larger than you are.
Benefits of Lawyers Attire
The most important part of a lawyer’s attire is having a confident and competent look. Judges and juries will trust you more when they see you wearing expensive, high-quality clothing. Attorneys with poor-quality attire may be perceived as unprofessional or uncaring.
Buy designer brands such as Nike or Calvin Klein to convey success and professionalism. Before buying your attire, consider what type of work you will be doing in court (i.e., criminal defense, civil litigation). While it is not uncommon for high-profile attorneys to show up to work wearing blue jeans and T-shirts, most attorneys dress in business casual at least for jury trials and depositions (but make sure they aren’t tacky). Your career trajectory is determined by how you dress.
Attorneys have a responsibility to their clients to dress in a manner that represents them well. If an attorney looks sloppy, then some people will conclude that they are not very good lawyers. Therefore, you should always try to look your best while at work and on court dates. Fortunately, being professionally dressed does not have to be expensive.
A good attorney should be appropriately dressed for a court appearance, but what that means is not always clear. For example, if you’re representing your client in front of a judge and jury, you should wear formal business attire: a suit and tie for men and a dark skirt or dress pants in a jacket and blouse or shirt for women.
If you’re representing your client in front of just one person, however, then business casual is fine – meaning no ties or jackets are required. Be aware that some states have specific rules regarding what attorneys wear in courtrooms. The image you show to people based on your dress code will determine how well your client will trust you. Proper dressing is highly recommended for practicing lawyers.