Welcome to Ahead of the Curve, our new series for incoming 1Ls. We’re getting lots of questions about what law school to attend, how to pay for it, and what people can be doing now to set themselves up for success in law school. Stay tuned, and be sure to sign up for our free mailing list and check out the Start Law School Right course to ensure you’re ready to go on Day One!
When you enter law school, you take an oath of professionalism and are thrown into a new (scary) legal world full of suits, briefcases, and mountains of paper. Although you are traversing this vast new world, you are still a student and not a lawyer (yet). So why should you worry about your clothes and style when going to school? Why is it not acceptable to go to class in pjs with breakfast for your 8 a.m. contracts class? Well, in short, it’s because looks matter in law school and the legal profession.
Why Do Your Looks Matter?
First, I would like to make a blanket disclosure by saying you should never judge a book by its cover and the way a person dresses and who they are as a person are not always the same. However, whether you like it or not, everyone is judged based on their appearance and namely, how they dress. (This sucks, I know but hear me out!) Hypothetical: Imagine the most professional person you know. Would you take them seriously if they were wearing sweatpants and a stained t-shirt to a meeting? Probably not, right? Why is this? Well, it is a bit complicated and scientific, but your unconscious brain takes any and all information it can (visual and what have you) and synthesizes it in order to create a more complete analysis on a person. This is why even if you don’t know someone very well, you know what type of person they are (e.g. trustworthy) even though you don’t know them. You get a “gut feeling” that you can’t explain. That’s your brain doing a bunch of work behind the scenes in assessing others. It can be a little unfair but such is the human anatomy.
How You Want to Be Perceived
Although it stinks that people will always be judging you (unconsciously or otherwise), you can actually shape how they judge you. That’s right, you can essentially become a Perception Alternator. You can make people think you are professional, studious, compassionate, (the list goes on) just by the clothes you wear and how you look. So when setting up your wardrobe or buying new clothes, think to yourself: “How do I want people to view me?” This will guide many of your decisions without much thought. This way, you are in control of how you’re judged, rather than being treated unfairly based on your looks.
Your Own “Dress Code”
So how exactly should you dress for law school? Well you need to set a dress code for yourself. This goes into how you want to be perceived. You don’t have to go out and buy a completely new wardrobe just because you are starting or are in law school. Instead, look at your closet and decide which clothes you are comfortable wearing to school and legal events and which clothes are best left for the weekends in casual situations. Personally, I have my closet organized into “dressy”, “casual”, and “work-out/very casual” clothes. This makes it easier to decide what you want to wear to school instead of stressing about it the morning of class.
Give Yourself Wiggle Room
Of course, every day at school is not going to be a suit-and-tie or nylons-and-high-heels kind of day. You need to give yourself some wiggle room and adjust your dress code depending on what is happening with school and/or your job. Choose your dress code based off your comfort levels but also modify it to what suits your needs. Decide which clothes are best for your “everyday” wear at school. This could be a nice blouse or shirt with a skirt or slacks. For me, my “everyday” wear is a mix of dressy-casual, business-casual outfits. These are clothes I feel comfortable in for long days of classes and lectures but still make me look polished. However, if you know there is a big event going on at the law school, adjust your dress code to be more professional. On these days, I normally wear a blazer or suit jacket and have a more business-professional look. (These are the days I call “dress for success” days because you never know who might be at your school!) Also, you can adjust your look based off what you have going on outside of the law school walls (wait… you can have a social life outside of law school??) Ultimately, your dress code does not have to be a strict suit-only style to look professional.
So I know I may have scared you a bit, but really, what you look like is nothing to stress about. No, you don’t have to wear suits everyday to law school but some people do and there is nothing wrong with that. No, you don’t have to feel ashamed if you decided to wear sweatpants and a t-shirt because you pulled an all-nighter (which I don’t suggest) and had to go to class at 9 a.m. No, your constitutional law professor is probably not going to remember what you wore every day of class. However, you do need to be aware that law students and those in the legal profession are sometimes (unfairly, mind you) held to a higher standard, especially on their looks. Lay people expect lawyers to dress nicely and professionally. Although this may be true, law students do not have to be 100% professional 100% of the time. Looking good isn’t just about your clothes either, you need to make sure you take care of yourself (this means personally and health-wise). On the other hand, if you look the part, you will feel the part meaning doors may open for you if you impress the right people. But don’t stress about your looks, focus on being successful while keeping in mind how others may perceive you.
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.