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What is the appropriate way to dress for a legal interview?

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My first job out of law school was in a law firm in Southern California that had been featured in trendy magazines like Cosmopolitan because it had no dress code. Today this is the norm for a lot of law firms and other employers around the country; however, more than a decade ago this was considered extremely unusual—even in free-spirited Los Angeles. This particular law firm loved to talk about how casual they were and how easygoing the firm's atmosphere was because there was no dress code. Partners would wear Hawaiian shirts, shorts, and sandals, and the lack of a dress code really did contribute to a certain sense that things were different there than they were in the formal New York City law firms most of the attorneys came from.
 
What is the appropriate way to dress for a legal interview?

What I realized after being at the law firm for some time and getting involved in the recruiting was that the firm generally interviewed two types of people: those who came in dressed in shorts or other casual clothing and those who did not. Some law students loved to show up for interviews dressed ultra-casually, apparently feeling they were doing the right thing. More often than not, however, the law students being interviewed did not dress casually, and it was even rarer that a lateral attorney candidate would dress casually.

After observing interviews for approximately one year, I began to notice a pattern: none of the people who showed up at interviews dressed very casually got hired. In almost all instances, the casually dressed associate who had interviewed one of them would later make some sort of remark about how he or she did not seem that serious about the job. On perhaps one or two occasions, I heard something about how the person was dressed, but for the most part, the interviewer would refer to other reasons for the person not being hired that had little to do with appearance. Deep down, though, I knew that the reason the person was not hired had to do with how he or she was dressed. I just knew it.

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Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

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