A decade after the dot-com boom pushed casual workplace attire into vogue; casual dress has become commonplace in many industries. The conservative legal field has been slow to embrace casual dress, however.
Even in law firms that have adopted a business casual dress code, law firm associates and other legal professionals might do well to ignore it for many reasons. Formal business attire is necessary for many activities, such as courtroom appearances and client meetings. Moreover, the way you dress at work can affect the image you convey to partners. It can influence assignments, promotions and your future within the firm.
Law Firm Dress Code for Men
- Formal business attire: For interviews, court appearances, client meetings, presentations and related business events, a tailored suit in a neutral color, such as gray or navy, is necessary. Wear a collared, long-sleeve white dress shirt with a conservative tie beneath the suit.
- Business casual attire: For less formal events, you can eliminate the tie and wear a suit with a knit shirt, golf shirt or dressy sports shirt. It is also acceptable to wear khakis or casual slacks with a sports jacket, dress shirt, a short- or long-sleeved sweater, vest or cardigan.
Both casual and business attire should be clean, pressed and wrinkle-free, without holes or frayed areas. Small logos such as Polo or Izod logos are OK, but shirts and slacks bearing large promotional information are not.
Unacceptable Clothing for Men
- Clothing that is ill-fitting or too tight
- Shorts, jeans or cargo pants
- Garments bearing pictures or large promotional information
- Casual shirts without collars
- Sweatshirts, sweat suits, jogging or warm-up suits
- Jeans or denim of any type, color or style
- Golf shirts with large logos or lettering
- Wild colors or prints
- Novelty ties
Conservative leather dress shoes with dark socks — black, navy, dark gray or brown — are ideal. For business casual days, laced loafers or dock shoes are acceptable. Shoes should be polished and in good condition.
Avoid scuffed or worn dress shoes, athletic shoes, flip-flops, moccasins or sandals.
A short, neat, conservative hairstyle is important. As a general rule, hair length should not extend beyond the lower lobe of the ear or touch the shirt collar. Facial hair should be neat and groomed.
Avoid long hair, wild, untamed styles, long beards or excessive facial hair, or hair dyed in an unnatural color such as pink or blue.
Limit jewelry and accessories. Keep nails clean and trimmed short.
Avoid heavy aftershave or cologne, excessive jewelry, earrings, and visible tattoos or piercings.
Exceptions to Every Rule
This dress code assumes that it's a normal Monday-through-Friday business day, but what lawyer hasn't had to hit the office on a weekend or a holiday? You can relax your business casual attire on these days, but always keep in mind that, depending on what type of law you practice, it's not uncommon for a client to come knocking at the office door with an emergency. You might also end up in an impromptu conference with another attorney who's also toiling away on the weekend just as you are. Everyone knows these aren't normal business hours but don't take relaxation too far.
These rules also apply to law firms. Of course, you're free to set your dress code if you're a solo practitioner. You're the boss, after all. But keep in mind that this dress code is more or less what clients, judges, juries and other attorneys expect. And judges, in particular, don't like lawyers to appear before them in shorts.