When you’re new to the legal profession one of the surprising things can be just how conservative it really is–and I don’t mean politically speaking, rather how stuffy, traditional, and serious it can be (especially in firms). So it can take time to get used to understanding the business etiquette and expectations when you’re beginning a new internship. You really want to be able to look the part as soon as you can, by dressing appropriately because it will 1) make you look like you belong; 2) not call into question your judgement; 3) not make you stand out in a negative way.
I know that in a perfect world, how we dress and appear wouldn’t be an issue, but creating your executive presence does include how you look. And until you have enough reputation and experience under your belt you need to make sure you present yourself in the best light possible.
If you’ve locked in your summer job, then one of the next thing you should ensure is that you have the appropriate wardrobe for the summer. I really hate discussing fashion for work with women because it is so easy to veer into patronizing. I don’t want to do that. But I do look back at my own experience (straight from undergrad to law school) and think that it would have been useful to have some information so that I didn’t have so many fashion missteps.
So here’s what I suggest:
One. Determine dress code. Unless you’re 100% sure, assume you’ll be wearing suits more often than not. If you’re at a large firm, that’s likely a given. But it’s not just the office environment–where do your attorneys practice? If they’re doing federal litigation (or are in court every day) then you want to stock up on at least one or two good suits, and suit pieces. If you know it’s a business casual environment or are working with transaction attorneys, then invest in good business casual pieces, like cardis and sweater sets that fit a business environment, but are not overly stuffy.
Two. Don’t follow the leader. I read a lot of advice that says once you’re working to look at higher ups to determine how to dress. This never made sense to me because most higher-ups are going to be decades older than me and they have carved their legal reputation enough to basically dress how they want. I remember interning in criminal court and a state’s attorney wore an all purple suit (like purple stockings, shoes, everything). She was a great attorney so no one batted an eye. If Sally Student shows up like that, it’s a completely different reception. So, take a cue from them to determine dress code, but I would likely look at younger attorneys–your contemporaries–to see what’s best for your office attire.
Three. Omg, Shoes. I know heels are pretty and sleek and make outfits look good. I know that. I’m 5’4, trust I know the power of some added inches. Buuuuuut, they are also tricky. There’s nothing worse than having to hustle to court with people in regular shoes and trailing behind them or them being annoyed that you can’t walk at a normal pace. How awkward is it to have a weird gait because you haven’t mastered the height of the heel? Or announcing your arrival because your heels are SO LOUD? Wear heels if you are certain you can manage them, but I highly recommend investing in nice flats (or wedges) that allow you to walk fast and comfortably from place to place.
Four. Just say no. Say no to anything that is too tight, low cut, or sheer. About two years ago sheer blouses for work were really trendy. They were really cute, but showcasing a bra shouldn’t be part of your look –at least not at work. Be mindful of what you’re wearing and make sure it goes with how you want to be portrayed as an attorney.