This week in Things I Wish I Knew, Joleena Louis discusses the solo attorney’s freedom of choosing her professional attire, and the perils to your reputation that may come with it.
Back when I was employed with a law firm, I came across a solo attorney that struck my interest. She was the opposing counsel for one of my more entertaining cases and on the phone she was well spoken, knowledgeable, and professional.
After weeks of phone and email contact, I thought very highly of her, but when we appeared in court for the preliminary conference she wore a faded, wrinkled, sleeveless black dress and sandals. Her hair was pulled back in a frizzy ponytail and upon seeing her, the judge’s clerk, someone she had never met before, made a comment about her being incompetent.
Unfortunately, at subsequent settlement conferences and court appearances she dressed in a similar manner which meant she was not just having an “off” day. This was her style of dress that she chose to display. Though this was an extreme example, it highlights an issue that all solo attorneys face: dressing too casually.
The Downside of Dressing However We Want As Solo Attorneys
One of the benefits of being a solo is that we can dress how we want. Although this is one of the freedoms we as solo attorneys have, many judges and attorneys from larger firms assume that solos are careless and incompetent. Dressing unprofessionally just reinforces that stigma and does not help the solo attorney whatsoever.
Best to Dress for the Client
One of the best pieces of advice that I received early in my practice was to dress for the clients I want to represent. While in some areas of practice that can mean casual clothing is acceptable (and maybe necessary), in others it is widely accepted as inappropriate.
For example, in family law, I find that clients want to hire someone that looks “like a lawyer” and that means a suit most of the time.
High net worth clients are not going to hire a divorce lawyer that looks like she just rolled out of bed.
Knowing How to Dress for the Right Occasion
If I am going to be in the office all day I will wear slacks or skirt with a blazer and add more of my personality to the outfit. I also keep in mind that what I wear to the office has to translate in court. I do this just in case I need to unexpectedly run into court or meet a client.
Keeping Age in Mind
You never know who you are going to meet and age plays into this as well. I look very young and I am also of petite stature.
If I am not careful, I can look like an intern which does not resonate well with clients and makes it difficult for them to take me seriously. I find that wearing suits makes me look more mature, polished and professional, which is what every attorney should aspire to portray.
Learn about other potential mistakes that could prevent your practice from being successful!
Get our eBook: “7 Deadly Mistakes that Prevent Law Practice Success”
Joleena Louis is a matrimonial and family law attorney at Joleena Louis Law, a ﬁrm she founded after leaving a boutique matrimonial ﬁrm in Brooklyn. Joleena is a client in Law Firm Suites’ start-up program in Downtown, New York. Her weekly blog series Things I Wish I Knew… explores her thought process and experiences in her transition from small law ﬁrm employee to successful solo practice entrepreneur.