How to dress for legal aid?

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Anonymous User
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How to dress for legal aid?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed May 11, 2011 10:36 pm

Working at a local legal aid office in the NE this summer. There's lots of advice about what to wear in business or government settings, but not much about what's expected in nonprofit settings. I assume the expectations will be less formal, but does this mean jeans and t-shirt, khakis and a button-down, or business casual. Any advice would be helpful.

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OperaSoprano
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby OperaSoprano » Wed May 11, 2011 10:58 pm

OP, I'll also be at a legal services organization this summer, and super thrilled about it. You are correct that they are usually not too formal, but I would not wear jeans unless advised otherwise. At my nonprofit last summer I wore fairly fashiony stuff that probably pushed the envelope for business casual, but our office was very informal-- our female attorneys wore sundresses when not going to court.

If you are a guy, I would go for polo shirts or button downs with nice pants. You don't need a tie, but wear decent shoes-- no sneakers. If a girl, pencil skirts and knits or cute silk blouses. You can alternate with knee length skirts that have a bit more volume-- I am a big fan of this season's pleated skirts which can be adorable if done right. No flip flops! I had this specifically pointed out as a pet peeve by the director of another nonprofit who was giving out "what to wear" tips. Everything should be presentable and fit you well, and I would personally stay away from t-shirts. It's better to err on the side of being overdressed until you know what you'll be most comfortable wearing.

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vanwinkle
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby vanwinkle » Wed May 11, 2011 11:10 pm

I've now worked in two legal aid offices in two cities in the northeast. Both times I was wearing polos and jeans by the end and nobody cared. I'd recommend starting a little higher than that (khakis and button-up shirts if you have them) and ratcheting down to match the other interns once you've been there a little while.

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kalvano
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby kalvano » Wed May 11, 2011 11:26 pm

I start at Legal Aid next week and was told business casual unless I'm going to court, then a suit.

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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby 2LLLL » Thu May 12, 2011 12:02 am

vanwinkle wrote:I've now worked in two legal aid offices in two cities in the northeast. Both times I was wearing polos and jeans by the end and nobody cared. I'd recommend starting a little higher than that (khakis and button-up shirts if you have them) and ratcheting down to match the other interns once you've been there a little while.



Exactly- you can always ratchet down, and no one will hold it against you if you wear a suit on your first day. On the other hand, if you show up on your first day in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt or something, you'll always be that guy

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sundance95
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby sundance95 » Thu May 12, 2011 12:03 am

vanwinkle wrote:I've now worked in two legal aid offices in two cities in the northeast. Both times I was wearing polos and jeans by the end and nobody cared. I'd recommend starting a little higher than that (khakis and button-up shirts if you have them) and ratcheting down to match the other interns once you've been there a little while.

This was my experience with legal aid in SF. Basically, if the shirt had a collar it was fine, and jeans were fine if you weren't going to court or a hearing. Of course, you need to factor in a little west coast dress down.

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quakeroats
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby quakeroats » Thu May 12, 2011 12:05 am

Image

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OperaSoprano
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby OperaSoprano » Thu May 12, 2011 12:37 am

vanwinkle wrote:I've now worked in two legal aid offices in two cities in the northeast. Both times I was wearing polos and jeans by the end and nobody cared. I'd recommend starting a little higher than that (khakis and button-up shirts if you have them) and ratcheting down to match the other interns once you've been there a little while.


I am still wary about wearing jeans. I never wore them at my last nonprofit-- I will say you should save them until you've proven yourself if you wear them at all. Polos I concur about absolutely.

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OperaSoprano
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby OperaSoprano » Thu May 12, 2011 1:15 am

My ideal legal aid outfit (Rebecca Taylor dress):

Image

Note that the model is probably 5'10", so this would be a reasonable length on a girl of average height. You could probably get away with cute jewelry too, and do note the model's shoe color-- it's a great styling trick that IMO looks very office appropriate.

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Eugenie Danglars
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby Eugenie Danglars » Thu May 12, 2011 2:13 am

Just a tip- if you'll be working with clients from conservative backgrounds (particularly recent immigrants from SE Asia or the Middle East), consider dressing conservatively* for days you'll have client meetings. I found that I got a lot more respect and less questions about "are you sure you know what you're doing?" when I did this. Probably not fair, just true.

*By conservative, I mean slacks and a blouse with a high neckline.

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vanwinkle
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby vanwinkle » Thu May 12, 2011 4:06 am

kalvano wrote:I start at Legal Aid next week and was told business casual unless I'm going to court, then a suit.

Fair point: Always, always wear a suit to court. To some it's ridiculous to think this needs pointed out, but to others ... I'm just saying, no matter what the dress code in your office, always wear a full suit and tie to the courtroom, even if you're just observing.

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Lawquacious
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby Lawquacious » Thu May 12, 2011 4:10 am

I'm splitting my summer, and first half I am working at a legal aid office. I went to the interview with a suit on, and they just about laughed out loud at me. The lady interviewing me had jeans on, and IIRC not wearing flip flops was pretty much the main no-no. I do think one of the interviewers said not to wear shorts though. But everyone seemed dressed really low-key (i.e. I think pretty much everyone I saw had jeans on). Of course, they did mention that people dress up when they have court.

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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu May 12, 2011 11:52 pm

Worked at legal aid in Texas my 1L summer. Wore sandals, t-shirt, and shorts every day. It was great.

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OperaSoprano
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby OperaSoprano » Fri May 13, 2011 2:36 am

This is interesting to hear. My takeaway: NYC--- more dressed up than other cities, even for legal aid positions. People didn't wear jeans at my previous nonprofit (I was pleasantly surprised at how into fashion the attorneys were). I still wouldn't wear them to begin with, but if everyone around you is doing so, and you feel comfortable with it, adjust accordingly. I remain absolutely adamant about the no flip-flops, though. :lol: If you are dressing down, keep your accessories polished, and I have to say I agree with Eugenie Danglars that conservative attire can signal competence if you are young and female.

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Ipsa Dixit
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby Ipsa Dixit » Sat May 14, 2011 8:41 am

For the most part, jeans, t-shirt, tennis shoes, but that was in California and things could be more formal elsewhere. This was my experience at 3 out of 4 legal aid positions (the last one was definitely more biz casual).

Some supervisors would unexpectedly decide to take interns to homeless camps or service agencies. Do you think you want to be wearing fancy shoes and a suit there? You do not. Your shoes will get dirty, you will sweat in your suit if it's hot, and some clients will be intimidated or not want to talk to you because you just look too "other."

Suited up for hearings, but I would know in advance when that was going to happen.

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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat May 14, 2011 9:49 am

Also working at a large legal aid organization this summer. When I went for my interview it was mostly business casual, though some people were wearing ties as well. No jackets from what I could tell. I think business casual is a safe bet. I don't know if your position entails going to court, but if so, you'll obviously want to dress appropriately for that and keep a jacket and tie handy.

My office told us they would take us to court occasionally, especially if something interesting is going on. If you're at work and the opportunity suddenly comes up to go to court, you don't want to be the guy wearing jeans.

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kapachino
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby kapachino » Sat May 14, 2011 9:58 am

The legal aid office I interned for required business social on days that we didn't clients scheduled, and business casual on days that we did. Also, court days/runs required business casual. The attorneys themselves wore suits on court days, and business casual the rest of the time.

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Eugenie Danglars
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby Eugenie Danglars » Sat May 14, 2011 9:23 pm

What on earth is business social?

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prezidentv8
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby prezidentv8 » Sat May 14, 2011 10:05 pm

Eugenie Danglars wrote:What on earth is business social?

--ImageRemoved--

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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby freddie11 » Sun May 15, 2011 2:43 am

Image

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kapachino
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby kapachino » Sun May 15, 2011 4:55 pm

Eugenie Danglars wrote:What on earth is business social?



Jeans and a blazer, or a nice top and jeans. Polo and khakis. I used to think they made the term up, until I went to a restaurant here in Dallas and saw that they had "business social" as the dress code on their site. To put it simply, it's just dressed up casual.

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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby sgtgrumbles » Thu May 19, 2011 11:12 am

Can anyone chime in on what's necessary for the wardrobe of a public interest student generally? If you're 99% sure you're doing PI and don't plan on going to firm-sponsored dinners, OCI, etc., what's needed? Obviously at least one suit for wearing to court or formal functions, but what else? I don't own a pair of slacks or more than one traditional dress shirt. (I work for a non-profit with a very relaxed dress code; a t-shirt and jeans is my typical work outfit) Can I skate by with my simple and high quality (but slim fit) cotton pants, plus a more conservative button front shirt? Should I go out to Brooks Brothers and buy a few dress shirts and conservative ties? What occasions during 1L year necessitate dressing up if you're not going to biglaw-oriented activities? Since I don't plan on having to impress any conservatively-minded partners I'd prefer to maintain a casual/stylish look while still upgrading my wardrobe. On the other hand, I don't want to look too trendy while serving indigent clients.

Sorry for the amateurish questions. I just would prefer to not have to spend too much on clothes right now, but I don't want to have to run out to buy a blazer if something comes up that I'm not prepared for.

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vanwinkle
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby vanwinkle » Thu May 19, 2011 11:26 am

There are very few things you'll need to do during 1L that involve a suit. If your school has guest speakers or functions that let you meet practicing attorneys, you should go, and be dressed respectably for a student, so you have a chance to meet attorneys and start learning from them early. However, you're typically expected to be a student at these things, not an interviewee, so a suit would be overkill and a bit scary. Don't go unshaven or in ratty Ts and you'll be fine, though you can always make a better impression by wearing something slightly above T-shirts and jeans.

You may need a suit for 1L summer internship interviews. I say "may" because at least some PI 1Ls get offers based off just a resume and/or phone interview. However, you should be prepared for at least one interview, which means one suit.

During the summer you'll need a suit while you're at a PI org. They'll likely want to take you to court at least once as part of your training and you need to always wear a suit to court. It makes you look good and your employer look good.

You always need that one suit for special occasions, but typically the dress code for most PI orgs is pretty relaxed. People there aren't in it for the money or to look good, they're there to make a difference. You can wear khakis and button-up shirts if you want to look good but a lot of people will be wearing jeans and polos and that's fine.

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sgtgrumbles
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby sgtgrumbles » Thu May 19, 2011 11:34 am

Thanks for the advice, vanwinkle. You've been really helpful here and in other PI and PD threads. I'll invest in a few new items without going overboard.

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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby Gideon Strumpet » Thu May 19, 2011 1:12 pm

sgtgrumbles wrote:Can anyone chime in on what's necessary for the wardrobe of a public interest student generally?

One good suit for job interviews and going to court will get you through 1L. It doesn't need to be expensive, but it does need to fit well (which means it can't be cheap either).

You probably already know the basic rules, but for those who don't: Wear a suit to court. Wear a suit to job interviews. It doesn't matter what kind of practice or organization you're dealing with. This is not optional. It's a little baffling how many law students think they have options here. If you don't get the basic dress code for these occasions by now, then you're an idiot.

Also, as someone else mentioned, if you're doing court appearances or have contact with clients or opposing counsel, you need to look like a lawyer if you want people to treat you like one. The way you dress sends a message about how much respect you have for who you are with, or how seriously you take the situation you're in. If you come to work dressed like a landscaper, don't be surprised if people treat you like one. Even in a business casual environment, as an intern it is always best to dress like a lawyer, any time you may have contact with anyone from outside the office.

On the job, you will see staff attorneys at (some) legal aid and public defender offices slouching around in jeans and sandals. You may also see interns do it. You might not hear anyone say anything about it, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea. Those attorneys wearing jeans and sandals already have jobs. You do not. If you want to work in public interest, and you're not just backfilling 1L summer or doing pro-bono on the side, your summer internship is a three month job interview. Treat it like one.

The baseline rule here is: the lower your status, the more formal your dress. If you dress as casually as the staff attorneys you work with, then you're sending the message that you think you're equal to them. You're not. Also, nobody will ding you for over dressing; but some people will ding you for under dressing. Often the people who will ding you for being a slob are the same people who themselves come to work every day in swim trunks and sandals. It's a status thing; they perceive you (correctly) as a dolt, because you assumed the privileges of a status that you do not have.

Bottom line is, it's always safe to over dress. Wearing a suit every day is not going to cost you points at any firm, nonprofit or otherwise. Wearing a shirt and tie in a business casual office is not going to be a problem. If a senior attorney tells you directly that you should dial it back, then obviously listen to them; but you're not going to lose any points with them because they told you to dress down. You will lose points if someone has to tell you to dress up (though it's unlikely anyone will actually tell you this; they'll just write you off as being an idiot as well as a slob).

In an agency like a PD office, where attorneys often get called to court on short notice, you should always, always have a fresh suit with you at all times. If you have the wardrobe for it, it's not a bad idea to just wear a suit every day. As an intern, you won't have a court calendar, and you likely won't have advance warning on when attorneys you work with are going to court. If a staff attorney is looking for a random intern to drag along to court to fill in for them on a bail hearing or something; if you already have a suit on and the other office intern is in jeans and a t-shirt; guess who's going to court that day.

Also, organizations are all different. At many public interest orgs, the dress code is basically the same as any other firm. Some PDs dress like oafs, but a lot of them (often the better ones) go out of their way to outdress the prosecutors. Unless you have worked at an office or with a particular attorney before, you won't know what their standard is until you're on the job. So you should come to the job with the minimal wardrobe needed to meet the highest level, and adjust from there. Something like three well-fitted suits, five pairs of dress pants and shirts, and appropriate accessories, should cover you for any 1L or 2L summer job.
Last edited by Gideon Strumpet on Thu May 19, 2011 1:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.




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