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The First Impression of a Legal Professional

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The following topics-attitude, clothing, speech, and the general "initial impression" constitute basic elements of the concept, appearance.

Attitude


Nebulous "attitude" is a difficult subject. However, the concept is real and important throughout the job hunt. Although proper dress and carriage are significant, your attitude about law work, job searching, and personal interaction matters greatly. Inherent in the early stages of "the search is an earnest, excited student atmosphere, as in September the rush begins. September becomes December, and the spirit wanes. It is in the latter stage, after twenty interviews (some all-day affairs), that the handshake and step are not as strong. The major difficulty about the job search arises from the necessity of constant interest in every firm.

An employer must feel that you are entirely interested in the firm, that it is the only place to which you are committed. Do not, however, beg or force the employer to beg. Curiosity and alertness indicate a positive attitude toward an employer and the work. The facile part of interviewing and job hunting is manipulating consciously your sense of purpose. Freshen your attitude at each interview, each rejection letter, each phone call to check status. Sell your ability differently, but as strongly, to each employer, and to yourself. Unless you have early luck, the process is physically and emotionally tiring. The most impressive attribute of an applicant, in a personal setting, is the attitude about interviewing with an employer and ultimately working at the firm.

Clothing

Clothing, like attitude, becomes an applicant. Be precise in choice; if you haven't a sense for color and fabric coordination, consult someone who does. Luxury is unnecessary, but organization and dignity must be visible and be relaxed. Your personal visual appearance assures an employer that you "fit" the environment, that it is a comfortable match. You need not believe in the artifice, but enjoy the show, or appear to enjoy it. Dignity differs from egotism - you can confidently adopt a new suit without emotional compromise.

Clothing is preparable and then forgettable; no constant preoccupation with this facet is necessary. Outward physical preparation, however, affects greatly an employer's overall impression of an applicant. Like a correct cover letter, correct grooming at least causes no demerit in an employer's evaluation.

Whatever your taste and inclination in dress, conservatism, as a general objective, is more effective and prudent in the job hunt than deviation for its own sake. Conservatism - understated consistency - implies an ability to adapt to varying social and professional environments. Again, like a properly crafted resume, understated coherent dress assures the employer that another facet of your professional package can be trusted.

Details of dress reflect your individuality, but the overall mold must reflect a quietly confident attitude and determined approach to the profession."Appearance" must be made to look good: it is a goal in itself. Clothing is integral to the total picture. Dress should not be somber or dull, but carefully planned, interesting, and subtle.

Men's suits should be wool, wool/polyester blends, or cotton/polyester blends. Lapels are 1 1/2" wide, pants are cuffed or not, at your discretion. The shirt is white or blue, or a very subtle stripe, and, depending on your degree of psychological comfort, 1 1/2" collars are buttoned-down or not - if not, a collar bar adds flair without ostentation. The shirt should be cotton or a cotton/polyester blend. The tie, the most difficult part of the ensemble, is 2" wide at base, preferably all silk (knots best), understated but complementary. The overlaying end just touches the belt line; consult an experienced tier or manual for different knots that match different collar types. Shoes should be leather dress loafers or tie-style, in black or brown. Crepe soles or more casual shoes are inappropriate.

Suits are a woman's most effective garb in the job search. Suits may seem less flattering than dresses or pants, but the role, at least in the job-hunt stage, demands a look compatible to men's. Shirts can be more variable here than a man's and may be even brilliant in color and design. Shoes should be pumps, in general. Very subtle make-up and jewelry are desirable.

Speech

The world of speech appears briefly in latter sections on interviewing; here speech is relevant as part of the initial impression. Apparent sincerity and active curiosity should characterize your speech. Relaxation in such a situation comes hard, but is the goal. Use little slang, although young associates might welcome and encourage it. Do not be glib or nonchalant. Avoid deliberate jokes - natural levity arising from the immediate circumstances better indicates a sense of humor and ability to adapt quickly to different stimuli. Avoid pomposity; speak clearly, be brief. Speech is yet another indicator of one's capacity to "fit" the working environment. You need not be eloquent or especially articulate, but you must appear competent and coherent. Speech is a great giveaway: tension or ill-preparation will show in your speaking cadence and pattern.

Initial Impression

Out of the elevator and up to the receptionist. Sit in the lobby, awaiting first appointment at the firm. Legs crossed, briefcase at one side. (Jackets unbuttoned when seated.) Coffee held precariously as Wall Street Journal flutters. First real test of impression-making occurs: your appointment, in person, strides over, briefly startling; you, in one movement, fold paper, rise while tabling coffee, and grip the person's hand, sweeping up briefcase and falling in step out of the reception area. Trivial as that process seems, it is the first physical presentation to an employer, and the employer's first opportunity to assess an applicant.

The folded paper, the sipped coffee, the surely placed briefcase make the picture real, creating the initial impression. An employer has only one first impression - in the first half-hour all aspects of behavior and bearing matter. Part of an initial impression includes luck: whether you feel ill, whether a client blasted the employer immediately before your session, or whether the poor coffee causes an untimely grimace, are matters largely outside your control that can affect the initial impression. Important is your awareness of the meaning of the initial impression; your forgetful slumping in the reception-area couch can significantly damage your chance of later favorably impressing an employer.


About Harrison Barnes
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.

About LawCrossing
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About Harrison Barnes

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