How to Dress Like a Lawyer: 5 Easy Tips to be a “Knockout” While Knocking Out the Competition

By Eddie Gamez - February 23, 2016
How to Dress Like a Lawyer: 5 Easy Tips to be a “Knockout” While Knocking Out the Competition

Fashion and style is something any lawyer should take seriously. Here are our five tips to help you learn how to dress like a lawyer and look great wherever you practice.

Ever notice with many lawyers, fashion and style can often be a hit or miss? Or that some lawyers damage their reputation by dressing too casual or sloppy?

Your fashion sense is a necessary tool to cultivate your personal brand because your in-person presentation is what really seals the deal in getting new business for your firm.

According to Business Insider, research shows that your appearance strongly influences other people’s perception of your financial success, authority, trustworthiness, intelligence, and suitability for hire or promotion. The way you present yourself will have a strong impact on a client’s willingness to share information with you, pay you a certain fee or hire you altogether.

Essentially, fashion plays a critical role in making a client say “yes” to your services.

Don’t lose out on business because your style is questionable. Here are some great tips to help you learn how to dress like a lawyer and use fashion to support your practice and your personal brand:

1.  Dress for the job title and practice area

The law is a profession where credibility and competence are of critical importance. Dressing appropriately is essential to getting your clients and peers to view you as such.

“Your appearance is your first impression and when people hire attorneys they expect them to look a certain way, especially if they’re paying you a high retainer,” said Joleena Louis, a solo attorney practicing family law.

It’s important to create your lawyer fashion and style based on your client. For example, Ms. Louis says she always wears make-up and a suit because it’s perceived as more professional and her high-paying divorce clients expect her to look a certain way.

Do not doubt that your clients will make assumptions about you based on your appearance, as in Ms. Louis’ case . According to a study funded by Procter & Gamble, women who wore make-up ranked higher in competence and trustworthiness.

On the other hand, sometimes it may be better for business to tone down your style to meet the expectations of the clients, while still being professional. For example, immigration attorney, Frieda Goldstein, recalls attorneys dressing down a bit because they were representing lower-paying immigration clients.

Keep in mind that you should always adjust your style as your practice grows and your ideal client changes. Your wardrobe should match who you are representing as well as who you would like to represent.

“I worked for the government for many years as a prosecutor and it didn’t matter what you wore,” Ms. Goldstein said.But when you’re in private practice you’re selling yourself and selling your image. Consistently some of my clients will say ‘we hired you because of your shoes.’”

2.  Find the right balance between practicality and glamour

You should always select an outfit that aligns with the type of day ahead. Are you going to be running around a lot from meeting to meeting, or down to the courthouse? Or, are you spending your day at the office doing paperwork? Whether you’re picking a work bag or shoes for the day, selecting an outfit should be a strategic decision.

“Underdressing in court is a huge mistake that I see other attorneys make,” Ms. Louis said.

“I once saw someone in court wearing sneakers with a suit,” Ms. Goldstein said.

The term “professionalism” is something that should be built into your style. You should live by these two sayings when it comes to lawyer style:

  • “No one in the courthouse should ever have to question your professionalism based on what you’re wearing.”  
  • “If you’re uncertain about wearing a particular item of clothing, then it probably isn’t professional.”

Finding the right balance between being practical and stylish can be difficult in lawyer fashion. It can be easy for some lawyers to either get carried away or fail to pay attention to detail with their fashion choices. When it comes to professional dress, never prioritize your own taste over the demands of your profession.

While you shouldn’t make yourself suffer in an impractical outfit, you also shouldn’t damage your professional reputation for the sake of being comfortable. Try to find a compromise between both comfort and professionalism. You can always bring an extra pair of shoes or change of clothing to the office.

3.  Wear what makes you feel confident (but make sure it fits)

Although there are certain pieces of attire that are often viewed as staples in a professional wardrobe, it’s important to you wear items that make you feel good.

Confidence will always be your best fashion accessory in law and what makes you feel confident will vary. Do you feel more comfortable with a suit that has a slimmer fit? Would you rather wear a dress and a blazer than a feminine pant suit? Pick what you like to wear in addition to what you are expected to wear.

However, make sure what you choose to wear also fits. Many attorneys make the mistake of selecting clothing that is appropriate and professional, but simply doesn’t fit them properly. Wearing something too tight or too big can also damage your image.

Getting your clothes tailored is the best way to look great, but it also requires some self-awareness. If you gain or lose weight, you should revisit your tailor to adjust your wardrobe. Clothing that fits well will always be more comfortable, which will make you feel more confident.

You simply cannot perform your best when you lack confidence and people have a natural ability to tell when someone is not confident. Your fashion choices can give you a major confidence boost. Studies show a link between looking good and feeling more confident.

4.  Invest in a wardrobe, but don’t break the bank

Just because you may not have a huge clothing allowance doesn’t mean you have to skimp on style. You can still dress like a lawyer on a budget.

Figure out what you can spend and look for clothing that is affordable, but high quality. Instead of buying a Prada suit, perhaps set your sights on something from Express, Topman, or Zara. Or if you’re in need of a good high heel, perhaps choose something from Target or JCPenney instead of Stuart Weitzman. You could even try shopping at a second hand store.

Ms. Goldstein recommends mixing higher-end clothes with more affordable pieces.

“You don’t have to spend a fortune,” she said. “Invest in a couple of really good pieces, like a blazer or shoes, and it becomes easy to mix and match.”

If you have the means to shop high-end, then go ahead. But remember there is no shame is choosing affordable brands and you will thank yourself later for being frugal.

5.  Pick a style and commit

Along with professionalism, personality needs to be built into a wardrobe. Do you have high energy and a quirky personality? Show that with pops of color. If you are more reserved, then muted tones might work best. Personality is where you find your true style.

Think of your wardrobe as supporting your personal brand. In the case of the solo attorney, your brand is representative of your services. The way you present yourself indicates your brand’s promise to deliver a quality experience.

Make an effort to be distinct. Your brand and style should promise quality, but it should also set you apart from your competition. Plus it’s easy to do, and can be something as simple as consistently adding an accessory, like scarves, colorful socks, pocket squares or hats. Adding a small touch that glams up your outfits in a subtle, but identifiable way shows off your personality without jeopardizing your professionalism.

In the case of Ms. Goldstein, she created a signature style using accessories and a few essential pieces.

“I have a Chanel look,” she said. “I keep it sophisticated and try to portray an older style. I wear a lot of basic black with pearls or a gold chain. And I always have a good shoe.”

As a lawyer, it’s imperative to dress well and appropriately for your job. We don’t all have to be Amal Clooney to be a fashionable legal professional, but keeping style in mind allows us to make a good impression and enhance our personal brand.

About Eddie Gamez

Eddie Gamez is a Law Firm Suites staff writer and stand-up comedian. You can follow him on Twitter (EddieDGamez) if you need a laugh.

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