How to dress for legal aid?

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vanwinkle
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby vanwinkle » Thu May 19, 2011 1:19 pm

Gideon Strumpet wrote: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).

While I agree with the overall sentiment, I think there's a difference between overdressing for a day and overdressing longer than that. If you keep showing up in a suit after it's clear everyone else is dressing business casual, you're going to become "that guy" that people don't like or make bad assumptions about. One thing to keep in mind about PI orgs is that since they're not in it for the money they often care more about how well they get along with each other, and if you feel like someone who's gonna cause friction or not fit in, they'll consider that during hiring.

Wearing a suit your first day is a safe bet. Wearing it every day after it's obvious nobody else is wearing a suit can actually be harmful. You want to make sure you're not significantly overdressing every day. As long as you're not the most casual person there you're fine, but if you're the lone stuffy suit you're going to be remembered as the lone stuffy suit.

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sundance95
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby sundance95 » Thu May 19, 2011 1:23 pm

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

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. Assuming 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).

I just wanted to point out that on the West Coast, the bolded does not necessarily apply-you can alienate an office by overdressing. I did a year at SF's civil legal services agency, and for the first week, I wore slacks, dress shoes, an informal wool jacket (the kind with the professor patches on the elbows) and a dress shirt. I'd usually come in wearing a tie but lose it halfway through the day. After a week, one of the head attorneys, a brilliant woman from HLS, came to me and said, "Why are you wearing a suit everyday? You really don't need to." Of course, the irony is that it wasn't even a suit. The clear implication is that it was odd for me to dress that way.

Prior to working there, I had an interview at the Berkeley nonprofit that is conducting the extremely large Wal-Mart class action suit that recently came before the Supreme Court. It was my first West Coast interview after moving back to Cali from DC. I wore my full interview suit to the interview with the head attorney, who wore jean shorts and a t-shirt. His first reaction to me was to wrinkle his nose and say, "Who told you you had to wear a suit?" I said that wearing a suit showed how seriously I took this opportunity, but it was clearly strange for me to have done so in his eyes. I didn't get the job, although I thought the rest of the interview went well.

In contrast, I wore a suit my interview for a job at a marijuana legalization lobby in DC, and that was expected of me. The East Coast/West Coast dress culture is very, very different.

Gideon Strumpet
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby Gideon Strumpet » Thu May 19, 2011 1:36 pm

sundance95 wrote:I just wanted to point out that on the West Coast, the bolded does not necessarily apply-you can alienate an office by overdressing.

Like I said, if an attorney tells you straight up you're over dressing, you should listen to them. But it's not safe to assume you can dress down just because it's the west coast. You will, every once in a while, run into people who will wrinkle their nose at your for wearing a suit to a job interview, but it's not the suit that kept you from getting the job.

Before law school, I also worked at legal aid type agencies in San Francisco for a couple of years. Plenty of people at the one office I worked at wore shorts and sandals every day, but not all of them. Especially the younger staff attorneys tended to wear a shirt and tie every day. I wore a nice shirt and dress pants, always, and a suit on court days. Nobody ever saw this as a problem.

I also sat in on the interviewing process for new attorneys at that office, and people came in wearing everything from togas to three-piece suits. I never heard anyone comment on someone being overdressed. There were some comments on people who dressed like outright slobs (they thought the toga was just neat).

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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby Gideon Strumpet » Thu May 19, 2011 1:41 pm

vanwinkle wrote:Wearing a suit your first day is a safe bet. Wearing it every day after it's obvious nobody else is wearing a suit can actually be harmful. You want to make sure you're not significantly overdressing every day. As long as you're not the most casual person there you're fine, but if you're the lone stuffy suit you're going to be remembered as the lone stuffy suit.

Nobody says you have to wear stuffy suits. If you have a good fashion sense, a solid wardrobe, and you dress well as a matter of personal style, then looking good is never going to be a liability. There is no obligation to dress down if you like dressing well and you have the eye for it. Dressing uncomfortably well just makes you look uncomfortable, but dressing well because you like doing it is never going to hurt you.
Last edited by Gideon Strumpet on Thu May 19, 2011 1:52 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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vanwinkle
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby vanwinkle » Thu May 19, 2011 1:51 pm

Gideon Strumpet wrote:
vanwinkle wrote:Wearing a suit your first day is a safe bet. Wearing it every day after it's obvious nobody else is wearing a suit can actually be harmful. You want to make sure you're not significantly overdressing every day. As long as you're not the most casual person there you're fine, but if you're the lone stuffy suit you're going to be remembered as the lone stuffy suit.

Nobody says you have to wear stuffy suits. If you have a good fashion sense, a solid wardrobe, and you dress well as a matter of personal style, then looking good is never going to be a liability. There is no obligation to dress down if you like dressing well and you have the eye for it. Dressing uncomfortably well just makes you look uncomfortable, but dressing well because you like doing it is never going to hurt you.

This makes no sense. You said this:

Gideon Strumpet wrote: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.

You didn't say you have to wear a suit every day, but you blanketly said that someone could without it hurting them. That's not true and what I was responding to. And my point with saying "stuffy" was that it's how you might be perceived, not that it's how you feel about it. Dressing too well is going to hurt you, whether you like doing it or not, if people draw negative assumptions from it. And they might. That was my point.

It's not about whether you "look good", it's about whether you look overdressed. You can look good while you're doing it but it could still be a mistake anyway.

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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby Gideon Strumpet » Thu May 19, 2011 1:53 pm

vanwinkle wrote:You didn't say you have to wear a suit every day, but you blanketly said that someone could without it hurting them. That's not true and what I was responding to. And my point with saying "stuffy" was that it's how you might be perceived, not that it's how you feel about it. Dressing too well is going to hurt you, whether you like doing it or not, if people draw negative assumptions from it. And they might. That was my point.

No. I said you need to make sure you're dressed more formally than those above you on the food chain. I didn't say wear a suit every day in an office where everyone shows up in jeans and a t-shirt. One step more formal than the norm for people above you will work fine anywhere. Wearing a dress shirt and pants would be fine in that situation. Wearing a shirt and tie would even be ok. Wearing a suit every day in an office where most people wear a shirt and tie only, or dress pants and shirt, is not going to seem weird.

Wearing a suit also won't seem weird in a place like a PD's office, if you get called to court often and on short notice, even where most attorneys only dress for court on days they know they're in court. You don't have to wear a suit every day in that case, but you should always have one with you. And being dressed for court will sometimes allow you to catch opportunities that you would otherwise miss if you had to change.

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kalvano
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby kalvano » Fri May 20, 2011 12:01 am

I've gotten the impression at the office I am at that you need to look presentable, but that quality of work is much more important. I've been fine in khakis and a polo, and some of the long-term interns wear jeans.

For Legal Aid, make sure to dress nicer on intake day, you might be meeting clients.

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vanwinkle
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby vanwinkle » Fri May 20, 2011 12:23 am

Gideon Strumpet wrote:One step more formal than the norm for people above you will work fine anywhere.

This is good advice. Perhaps if you had given it the first time I wouldn't have criticized you.

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quakeroats
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Re: How to dress for legal aid?

Postby quakeroats » Fri May 20, 2011 1:16 am

vanwinkle wrote:
Gideon Strumpet wrote:One step more formal than the norm for people above you will work fine anywhere.

This is good advice. Perhaps if you had given it the first time I wouldn't have criticized you.


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