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How Critical Is Your Appearance While Hunting For a Law Job

published February 25, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
Published By
( 10 votes, average: 4.3 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
Your resume and cover letter represent you. They convey all that you are as a newcomer to the profession. Consequently, the way these documents look is at least as important as what they say. In some ways, their appearance may be even more important. Every legal administrator has a story about otherwise good resumes that were discarded without further thought simply because of a sloppy or amateurish appearance.

Here are some of the resume-killers that every applicant must avoid:

  • Erasures or crossed-out items (this is the equivalent to a sign saying "Don't hire me!")
  • Misspellings (use a dictionary, a spell-checker, or both)
  • Poor grammar or sentence structure (use a grammar book, a grammar-checker, or both)
  • Dot matrix printing (get access to a laser printer)
  • Dirt or smudges (this is the "Don't hire me!" equivalent to erasures)
  • Improper business format in letters
  • Resumes that are poorly organized or hard to follow
  • Anything that does not convey real information
  • Anything that rambles
  • Inaccuracies, such as in dates or names

The three most important things you can do for your resume and letter are: proofread, proofread, and proofread. Then have someone else proofread these documents for you because most of us miss our own mistakes no matter how carefully we check. Send nothing until you are certain it is letter-perfect.

Use white or ivory-colored paper and matching, standard business-size envelopes. Use good quality bond - never the erasable kind. If you will have several enclosures, such as sample course work or lengthy internship guidelines; use a manila envelope large enough to send these items without folding. Be sure to include a return address and sufficient postage. Do use a word processor rather than a typewriter; it is faster and always results in a better appearance. As noted earlier, do get access to a laser printer for a crisp, professional look. Some copy shops will let you use theirs.

Let your letter and resume convey the message you are a professional, like everyone else in that office. Prove that you are ready to become a member of the professional environment. Produce a piece of writing that the recipients would be proud to have their clients see.

Dress and Appearance

As with many occupations, lawyers have a sort of uniform. For men and women alike, it is the suit. It conveys many messages, including authority and confidence. The suit says: "I accept the conventions of the profession. I am a team player. I belong here. I am successful enough to wear this suit, and discreet enough not to wear anything gaudy."

See 6 Things Attorneys and Law Students Need to Remove from Their Resumes ASAP If They Want to Get Jobs with the Most Prestigious Law Firms for more information.

In your initial interview, make your appearance shout "professional!" Your appearance need not be identical to that of a lawyer but, in a law office, it does need to be compatible with the atmosphere lawyers tend to create. If you are interviewing at a private firm where coats and ties-or jackets and skirts-are normally the rule, do not wear anything less formal. If you are interviewing in a more casual, non-law-office environment where coworkers wear somewhat more relaxed attire, such as in a nonprofit service organization, you should still treat the interview as a special, relatively formal event and wear business attire for this occasion. You can always adopt the more relaxed styles of those around you after your internship begins and you are more certain of the office's expectations.

The cost of looking professional is a frightening thought for many students, particularly those who are working for little or no compensation. Do not overlook discount stores and thrift shops where a very professional-looking outfit can be had for a small fraction of the cost others may be paying. The label is not important. What counts is the overall impression you make, and you can achieve that with surprisingly little money.

The following list of "dos" will help you succeed in your interview, perhaps laying the groundwork toward a permanent job.

  • Wear a blazer, sports coat, or suit jacket over a coordinated skirt or dress (women) or dress pants (men) for the best effect. A jacket or blazer conveys authority-similar to a suit-like nothing else you can wear. It can be removed when informality is preferred and put back on again when needed, such as to meet a distinguished managing partner, judge, or official. Most students should always have one, just in case.
  • In most offices, men should always wear a tie.
  • Wear only minimal jewelry.
  • Wear a watch; you will need it.
  • Keep hair neat and conservatively styled.
  • Wear clean, polished shoes and dress hose.
  • Carry a briefcase or portfolio. An inexpensive vinyl or canvas one is fine.

Lawyers of both sexes are very conservative in their appearance. And they expect the same conservatism from others in their office. Be sure it is your abilities that stand out and get noticed-not your clothes and makeup.

Most students are already aware of the "don'ts" in the following list, but some may need a gentle (and perhaps humorous) reminder.

  • Wear "rock star," "rapper," or too-casual styles (spiked hair, baseball caps, etc.)
  • Show up in jeans, cut-offs, or sweats
  • Carry a large backpack
  • Wear sneakers
  • Wear white sport socks
  • Forget socks or hosiery completely, wearing shoes on bare feet
  • Wear pants where most of the women do not
  • Wear low-cut or "peek-a-boo" dresses or blouses
  • Wear skirts that are too short (or too tight) to sit opposite a boss or a client without causing distraction or embarrassment
  • Dress as you would for a dinner party or wedding (bows, satins, sequins, etc.)
  • Wear lipstick or eye shadow so bright that it dominates your appearance
  • Wear spindly, spike heels that inhibit walking
  • Wear several earrings on one ear
  • Wear visible body-piercing or face ornaments
  • Display tattoos
  • Keep fingernails too long for easy keyboarding
  • Overwhelm everyone with perfume or cologne
  • Forget to shower

Dressing more casually than others suggests you may also be more casual about your work, and that is not the impression you want to make. But do not worry that your clothes may be slightly more formal than the other paralegals or support staff in your office-at least during an interview. You will simply be seen as a serious student concerned about making a good first impression.

Right or wrong, your appearance has a huge impact on how the world perceives everything else you do. Follow the preceding dress guidelines and you will be taking the first step toward establishing yourself as a polished professional.

Preparing for the Interview

Never go into an interview "cold." Several fairly predictable issues are likely to be raised during the interview. Prepare to respond to them smoothly and knowledgeably.

Review each of the following items before interviewing:
  • Your immediate learning objectives
  • Your longer-term career goals
  • Your reasons for wanting to work in this particular office
  • Your resume- particularly the experience and achievements that you can describe in some detail
  • Your research findings about this office and the individuals with whom you may be working
  • Your program's internship requirements
  • Unavoidable limitations that your supervisor needs to know about, such as scheduling restrictions or the lack of a car
As you answer the interviewer's questions-or perhaps when your interviewer is finished asking them-be sure to outline your own internship objectives. To be fair to yourself and to each office, you need to convey your learning objectives and career goals to the interviewer. For example, if you are uncertain about the area of law in which you would like to concentrate and you therefore want as varied an experience as possible, this preference should be stated. If you want to fine-tune your research strategies, drafting ability, or client relations skills, say so. The response you receive to these requests helps you gauge the office's value as an internship option.

Prepare your own checklist of questions. Some questions should be geared toward discovering your office's objectives. Why are they seeking a student intern? What do they hope the internship will accomplish for them? This information gives you insight into their motivation and helps determine how compatible their objectives are with yours. In addition, you will probably need answers to the following:
  • What work schedule is expected?
  • Who will be responsible for your supervision and final evaluation? How often will you be able to meet with this person?
  • What kinds of assignments can you expect?
  • From what other people might you receive assignments?
  • Are there other paralegals there to mentor you-to answer routine questions, provide work samples, and give occasional guidance?
  • Is a separate work space available? Where will it be?
  • What equipment is available for you to do your work?
  • Is any secretarial support available, at least for high-pressure projects? (Do not be too surprised if the answer is no.)
  • Will you be responsible for all your own word processing?
  • Will your responsibilities require driving to other locations and are travel expenses reimbursed, at least for longer trips?
  • Might this office be hiring a paralegal in the near future? (Do not leave without asking this last question!)

Add to this list, specific questions for your interviewer pertaining to your learning objectives and career goals. Keep questions simple and polite, focusing only on issues relevant to the internship and to your career.

Unless it is clear at the outset that payment for your internship is available, do not raise the issue of compensation until the internship is offered to you. Even then, do it gently and cautiously. Do not appear presumptuous or pushy.

Do not go to your interview empty-handed. Have several things ready to take with you:
  • The name, address, and telephone number of the office and of your interviewer
  • Clear directions to the office and a plan (plus pocket change) for parking
  • A clear understanding of how your interviewer's name is pronounced
  • A few extra copies of your resume*
  • Extra copies of relevant work samples from your paralegal courses (even if these were provided earlier)
  • A copy of your program's internship guidelines, policies, or internship brochure (even if these were provided earlier)
  • Samples of the forms or documents that your program uses for internships, such as a learning contract, internship agreement, or evaluation form.
  • The name, address, and telephone number for your program director or your director's business card
  • A note pad for taking notes during the interview
  • A professional-looking pen (not a chewed-up pencil)
  • An inexpensive but professional-looking portfolio for carrying these things-maybe one with your school's name on it

Before interviewing, conduct a trial run. Practice how you will get through the question-and-answer process. You can take turns role-playing with another student or practice interviewing with a relative, an instructor, your program director, or a counselor from your school's placement office.

Also, rehearse the questions you have for your interviewer. Try different approaches to your questions and answers and decide what wording is most effective. Videotape a practice interview, if you can, and play it back for yourself. What you see may astonish you. Some schools occasionally make videotaping available for this purpose.

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

More about Harrison

About LawCrossing

LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit

published February 25, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 10 votes, average: 4.3 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.