We talk a lot about fitting in with your work culture because it’s important to show that you get what it takes to belong at your job. You want to impress your coworkers and higher-ups based on your intelligence and ability to lawyer—not to distract them because you don’t get the memo and constantly stand out in a way that makes them question your judgement or creates limits for future progress in your career.
In order to ensure you fit in with your work culture, you need to assess the overall standard look, actions, and expectations of your job.
One. Appearance. This is the most obvious of things to focus on because it is what people see before they even get to know you. When you’re new to a job, you should err on the more conservative side and wear suits that allow you to fit in with the rest of your colleagues. A common issue I see with new workers/students is that they don’t have the money to buy “good suits” and they opt for clothing from fast casual stores that may not always look appropriate. And for those that haven’t had a chance to do much work in professional settings, there tends to be a lag in understanding what is acceptable at work and what isn’t (i.e. the shoes that you can wear to a club usually shouldn’t be worn at a law firm). On the one hand, who cares what you wear? I get that position—it shouldn’t matter, but if you don’t want it to affect your brand new career then you likely have to make some compromise and need to assess whether your look—as nice as it may be—fits in appropriately with everyone else.
Two. Actions. While appearance is the first thing people see, they remember how you act. It can be really easy to fall into a comfortable and casual relationship with coworkers and bosses, but if you’re new you should let that type of relationship take time. Like, the time a new person responded to a boss’ email with “totes mcgoats”… Like, why?! Yes, there may be some law firms that can be fun and easy-going, but don’t do away with all pretenses of professionalism just because it’s easy. Further, remember that this won’t always be your job and you don’t want to pick up bad habits that would be looked down upon at a different place.
Three. Expectations. What does your firm expect of you? Do people put in long hours in order to advance? Do they have after-work events where it’s expected that you attend? Does your agency expect that you do pro bono work? Volunteer in some other way? What do the majority of your colleagues and higher-ups do that you need to emulate? It’s easy to not do more than your basic job description, but it’s important to keep in mind the expectations that go beyond that and aim to meet those expectations if you want to further your career.
A lot of this can be hard to do—you already put in your time, now you have to do more?! It’s not an easy commitment, but if you’re committed to advancement then put in your time and after a few years, things get a little bit easier.