Lawyers Do Not Always Have to Wear Suits


Personal Productivity for Lawyers

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Being an attorney—a professional—carries lots of responsibility, working long hours, and being held to higher standards.

Those high standards seem to imply that lawyers should always wear suits—but do they need to?

Develop your own style

Celebrities in the world of business are known for what they wear—and it usually is not a suit. While it is unlikely that a lawyer will become the next big celebrity business person, there is a lesson to be learned. Defining your own personal look could be beneficial to your marketing, depending on what type of law you practice.

For example, if you practice entertainment law and frequently meet with musicians and artists, a more casual look makes more sense. Freelance filmmakers and coffee shop musicians rarely wear suits—and they probably would prefer an attorney who seems more in touch with their type of thinking. Frankly, wearing a t-shirt and jeans to client meetings will probably make them more likely to refer business to you.

Try it out and see what happens

If you work at a big firm, your options are probably more limited. Casual day might mean wearing a suit with no tie. For solo and small firm attorneys, however, there is probably more leeway.

Marketing is a constantly changing beast, so try it out for a few weeks and see what happens. Instead of wearing a shirt and tie to initial client meetings, try wearing something a notch lower—something you feel more comfortable in.

Chances are, the more comfortable you feel, the more comfortable your clients will feel. That usually leads to a strong rapport with the client and a greater likelihood they will hire you. Many potential clients deliberately seek out solo or small firms because they do not want to deal with hotshot downtown attorneys wearing fancy suits.

There will always be times when you need to wear a suit—like going to court and meeting with opposing counsel. For the other 98% of your work time, however, try out something different. Branding yourself as somebody who does things different might have a bigger positive impact than you think.


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  • Randall is certainly entitled to be the kind of lawyer he wants to be.

    I tend towards dressing up whenever there is any reason to do so.

    • I would dress up more if it weren’t such a pain to go to the cleaners.

  • Randall is right, lawyers don’t always have to wear suits. But a t-shirt and jeans? I personally don’t think that I could bring myself to wear that to the office. Even on our “casual Fridays,” I still wear business attire. In fact, I only wear my hair in a ponytail on days that I know I don’t have any clients coming in to meet with me. Clients are paying for a professional service, and I think that we need to dress the part.

    • I think it completely depends on the client and the circumstance. I used to work in the entertainment industry—and everyone I know hated lawyers who wore suits. They wanted someone they can relate to and somebody they feel comfortable with.

      If I practiced business law, then I think wearing a suit all the time is a must. Maybe that’s why I don’t practice business law.

      • Stephen

        I wonder if I would feel a little concerned about paying a guy in jeans and a tshirt lawyer rates.

        I thought people go to lawyers to get their problems solved, their transaction managed properly or any else service that lawyer provide. Do they really go to chill out in a coffee shop with someone they can relate to?

        • The attire and the location are separate issues, I think. A coffee shop is generally a bad idea for client meetings, if you ask me. It’s hard to discuss weighty legal issues in public, even if you set aside the confidentiality issues. And when you meet with your clients in a nice office, I think it matters less if you walk into the conference room in a t-shirt and jeans.

          I also think there is a difference between looking sharp but casual and looking sloppy and casual. Wearing scuffed hiking boots and an untucked dress shirt looks worse than nice leather flip-flops a well-fitting t-shirt with a sports coat and jeans.

          Similarly, I think a potential client’s perception of value has less to do with clothing than content, although I concede clothing is potentially an important part of the presentation. As a lawyer who frequently meets with clients in a t-shirt and jeans, I find that any skepticism I detect in potential clients fades away as I demonstrate my knowledge and talk about my experience during the initial meeting. It also helps to have a strong network that produces strong referrals. When someone tells a potential client “this is the lawyer you need to talk to,” it matters a lot less what I am wearing when they come to meet me.

          Finally, getting a potential client into your office is the hardest part. Once they are in your office, a kind of confirmation bias seems to kick in, and you just have to make sure the representation is a good fit for both sides, then pull out the retainer.

          • Oh my God, Sam, flip-flops? You’re not even allowed to wear those to the bar exam. I can’t even begin to comment on wearing those to meet a client.

            • Staci, I hate to break this to you, but I don’t think you would fit into my firm’s culture.

              • Sam, you’re probably right — I’d look too nice, HA! :P

            • Also, I’m happy to admit that while I may “get away” with dressing extremely casually, even (sometimes) when meeting with clients, it’s far from a best practice.

          • Flip-flops are ridiculous. That’s why I stick with Birkenstocks.

        • Stephen has a good point here – In spite of what I said about the Utilikilt (and I stand by that – statement and garment) I hear a voice of a boss of mine in the mid 80s encouraging me to re-think my to-the-office-when-meeting-clients wardrobe.
          Frank asked me whether I’d be comfortable in the chair if my dentist walked in rockin a Megadeth tee-shirt. For the rest of the time I was in his employment, seeing his clients, I dressed like his clients’ expectations of a lawyer would be.
          Folks I work with now understand that they could have gone to see a traditional lawyer and didn’t; they are seeing me and getting *my* view of the case. And for that, some of them are getting the suit; others get the kilt.
          All respect – David K. Hiscock
          Ballard Law Office 206-789-9551

          Q: What’s the penalty for bigamy?
          A: Two wives.

        • I missed the part where I recommended meeting clients at a coffee shop. That aside—-being able to relate to your clients is an enormous part of establishing good client relationships.

          Many people (clients) are alienated by suits—including my clients. I rarely wear a t-shirt and jeans to meet with them, but I also rarely wear a suit.

          • Stephen

            There’s an interesting line there — tshirt and jeans are fine but not coffee shops.

  • Champion Sweatshirts and Jeans are my normal attire in the winter, knit shirts in the summer. Even when meeting with clients, because they’re dressed the same way. If there’s a reason to dress up a little more then I go for a nice turtleneck sweater or silk T. If I were to have to go to court, I’d probably wear a tie out of respect for the court, but otherwise, I rarely have a situation that requires a tie.

    My clients have told me over and over that they hired me because I was NOT wearing a tie in the photos on my Web site. They like the comfort of talking with a trusted advisor who happens to be a lawyer. They like being treated as equals in their situations.

    I told my friend Josh – the one who works with ranchers, that he should wear nice jeans and a crisp denim shirt. His clients will feel more comfortable with him, but know that he pays attention and is comfortable in his own skin.

    In today’s market, I think it’s just as important to avoid looking like a snob as it is to avoid looking like a slob.

    • Glad I’m not the only one with this perspective!

  • What does Ari Gold wear to meetings at his office? A suit.
    What does he wear to meetings at a coffee house? A suit.
    What does he wear when meeting with the creators of Jackass? A suit.
    What does he wear when crashing a beach party to protect his client? A suit.
    What does he wear to a meeting at a Playboy Mansion party? Pajamas, because that is the one exception.

    A hip, young client doesn’t want to feel like their lawyer “gets them.” They want to feel like their lawyer isn’t going to screw up their careers by doing shoddy work. A suit says you take yourself and your job professionally. A t-shirt and jeans says you don’t have any other clients.

    Randall, how many times have you shown up to a client meeting in a t-shirt and jeans and later been given referral business by that client?

    Remember, the general rule is to dress (at least) one notch above your client. If they dress casual, you can dress business casual. If they’re biz-cas, you wear a suit. If they wear a suit, you wear tails. If they were a tux, you wear a white tux. And if they go ultra formal, you put on a uniform fit for an African dictator.

    • Randall, how many times have you shown up to a client meeting in a t-shirt and jeans and later been given referral business by that client?

      I’m responding for Randall, because he dresses better than I do. The answer is all the time (that’s why he mentioned it).

      I used to ask clients a lot whether it bothered them that I don’t wear suits. Without exception, they said no, and that the fact that I wasn’t wearing a suit made it easier to walk into my office and work with me.

      In fairness, this probably has something to do with the kinds of cases I was handling. I’ll start asking again now that I am working with tech startups, but I would be surprised to hear an objection from any of them.

    • I have not watched Entourage in a long time. That said, the character of Ari Gold is not someone I try to mimic in my professional endeavors. You will have to come up with a better example to convince me I need to wear a suit all day everyday.

      • James Wilson?

    • Not that I think television and movie lawyers have all that much to do with real-life lawyers, nonetheless:

      Vincent “Vinny” Gambini – No suit (until judge insisted).
      Henry Drummond – Although a great set of braces.
      Danny Kaffee – met his clients without a suit.
      Jan Schlictmann – real & movie version often appeared publicly without suit.

  • Until 2003 I managed (and was a paralegal) for a very small, very fine radical law firm in lower Manhattan. “My” lawyers dressed more for our ultra-hot location (Tribeca) than for convention. Thus, everybody wore jeans and whatever but kept a “court suit” hanging on the back of his or her door.
    They never lost a client because of the jeans.
    I’d say that the question of appropriate legal dress reflects more upon the self-confidence of the lawyer than upon any convention.
    But maybe this is a New York attitude?

    • That attitude might be more prevalent in NYC, but some of us have adopted it here in the flyover land known as the Midwest.

      • I’m OK with that. Personally, by the way, I was the only person in the office who wore proper office clothes. Why? Because I had a closet full of gorgeous proper clothes.

  • It’s not my saying but it’s a good one: “no one invented anything useful while wearing a suit”.

    • You’re thinking of Frederick Banting, “No one has ever had an idea in a dress suit.”

      And, I would proffer the United States of America as evidence to the contrary, and idea conceived not just in suits, but powdered wigs as well.

      And remember the words of Frederick Nietzsche: “Has a woman who knew she was well-dressed ever caught a cold?”

      And of course Mark Twain: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

      • Wonderful wonderful quotes. And I love wonderful wonderful quotes. Thank you so much.

  • I typically operated under the notion that I am dressed better than you. And I want to flaunt this fact at all times.

  • I think this issue is client-dependent. Know your potential clients and gauge their expectations. Some parts of the legal industry shun suits, others embrace it. I for one enjoy wearing suits. I’m a professional and I think I should look the part.

    Back in SoCal I worked for a solo attorney well into his 50s. He would usually go surfing early in the morning before coming into the office wearing board shorts and a t-shirt. But whenever a client or prospective client was scheduled to come in, we were always in suits.

  • I respectfully disagree Randall. Maybe you endear yourself to a few clients by dressing down with jeans. However, the vast majority likely won’t feel that way. I’ve worked at a firm where it was ok to wear jeans and others which were formal. My experience is that the vast majority of people want and expect their lawyer to be in business attire. They are paying what they feel is a premium for professional services and it doesn’t impress them if you aren’t in a suit.
    I look at it like a uniform. It’s part of the job and is part of the client’s expectation.
    Sometimes I leave the suit jacket at home but always wear at least dress shirt, tie and dress (not khaki) pants.

  • Jennifer Gumbel

    I echo that it all depends on the clients and the type of clients you want to reach out to. It’s a branding issue. Most clients, likely, are more comfortable seeing their attorney in a suit. However, I recently attended a farm continuation seminar, partially for the information and partially for meeting potential clients – all family farmers. I got some surprise from my family for leaving the house to meet potential clients not wearing a suit. I wore dark ironed jeans, an ironed buttoned down shirt, casual jacket and boots. I still looked polished, but a suit would have been entirely inappropriate under the circumstances and I have no doubt it would have turned some people off. I say, be aware of the circumstances. That may usually call for a suit, but don’t automatically reach for it at all times.

    • Most lawyers are pretty bad at making judgment calls. We refers to judicial opinions, treatises, best practice memos, and no action letters to tell us what’s okay and what’s not. And that’s for what lawyers are trained to understand.

      Fashion? Most lawyers don’t have a clue. A suit might not always be the best answer, but it is very rarely the wrong answer. You’re more likely to pick the wrong thing by not wearing a suit sometimes than by wearing a suit all the time.

      • I’d agree with that, when in doubt, wear a suit.

  • From time to time, the Utilikilt is *the* outfit to wear, esp when on the school commission and meeting the new principal.
    Whatever you’re wearing, make a statement and an impression.
    All respect – David K. Hiscock
    Ballard Law Office 206-789-9551
    Out in Ballard/Straight Talk

    Q: How *much* coke did Charlie Sheen use?
    A: Enough to kill Two and a Half Men

  • Jeffrey Lin

    It really depends on where you are located. The clients I handle here in the SF Bay Area are more tech focused, so I tend to go more casual, ie jeans and shirt. But to everyone’s point here, know your customers and dress the part. I don’t think there’s any harm in asking the client on what is appropriate in order to make a great impression. In my experience, they appreciate the honesty.

  • As a solo that represents construction contractors, I generally wear a suit when meeting clients for the first time, but after that am usually in a nice button down and khakis. In Richmond, VA the idea of jeans and a t-shirt would go over like the proverbial lead brick. I go for professional casual.

    I find my clients are more comfortable with me without feeling I am less professional when I dress this way.

    I do agree that this is client dependent though. If I were dealing with bankers all the time or high end estates, I’d have a different “dress code”.

  • I usually wear a coat and tie to meet clients the first time, a suit in court, and anywhere between jeans and a button up and khakis with a shirt and tie on a day to day basis.

    I’ve had a number of clients say they feel less nervous when I’m in jeans.

  • Randall: Can’t help but note the irony in that your headshot shows you in a suit! That said, I think there is another issue to consider as well– gender. I tend to wear suits more often than not. It helps with not being assumed to be the court reporter. (Which I have been mistaken for a time or two). I think women have a harder time showing gravitas, but a suit helps even out the playing field a little. When I really want to show I mean business, I haul out the flaming red suit you can see from space!

    • Brava! I have a close friend who was a portfolio manager at Merrill (and who is my only friend to have achieved millionairishness). She told me once that she’d gone to a Women in Finance sort of NYC luncheon and was the only woman seated at her table NOT wearing a gray suit with that awful little floppy dotted silk tie thing that apparently was (is?) the feminine version of a tie. My friend was wearing a brilliant pink-red jacket. She said the reaction to her was a mix of envy and horror. Which she found amusing.

    • That is a very interesting point about the gender disparity (by the way – props for being the first person to point out I wear a suit in my headshot).

      Funny you should mention a flaming red suit, I have a blazing purple dress shirt that I wear when I want to command attention!

      • Wearing a bright red suit, or a “blazing” purple shirt will command attention. So will shouting at the top of your lungs. What’s important is the message you convey after getting that attention. You want people to hear “I produce excellent results for my clients” and not “If my clothes were a person, they’d be Glenn Beck!”

        “Isn’t elegance forgetting what one is wearing?” – Yves Saint Laurent

  • Brian Mandel

    I agree, you don’t always have to wear a suit. Personally, I would not be comfortable in less than a dress shirt and slacks. Usually, I DO wear a suit, but without a tie. I have noticed that a suite, without the tie, but with a colorful “pocket square” gets quite a few positive comments from clients.
    Ultimately it comes down to how you feel – I you feel comfortable and confident, no matter how you dress, I think your client will feel that way too.