So You’ve Ruined Your Life: A Guide for Law Students, Lawyers, and the People Who (Allegedly) Love Them.

Hello, MFA!

One of my favorite parts of this sub is reading, and occasionally participating in, the Daily Questions thread. And few things get me as genuinely excited as seeing questions from folks who have decided to toss their life away for one of the most mentally unhealthy, most financially ruinous, and most cynical professions in modern society: law!

That was the genesis for this post, which can hopefully provide some insight for folks considering law school, folks in law school, and folks beginning their first attorney jobs. Understand that this is not a These are just the observations and ramblings of someone hoping to pass on what they have learned to strangers on the Internet.

One more thing before I start. At the time of writing this guide, we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. Law school, the Bar, job interviews, and day-to-day legal work are all often being done from home. If you’re a law student right now, or a newly sworn in lawyer, your experience over the last 2 years has been vastly different from the norm. It’s unclear how much of these changes to the nature of work will stick and how much will “return to normal”. I suspect the final result will be something in between, with many firms allowing “hybrid” approach of allowing attorneys to spend a day or two a week of remote work.

> “So, I’m thinking of going to law school…”


> “But I want to make a difference…”

Please don’t.

> “But I already put my deposit down and they gave me a good scholarship. What should I expect, clothing-wise?”

Fine… Well, the good news is that law school classes are a lot like undergrad: dress however the heck you want. Your classmates, if you ever see them IRL, will run the gamut from athleisure and hoodies to chinos with OCBDs. Unsurprisingly, in the Before Times™️, the average fell somewhere in between – polos, casual button down shirts or t-shirts, and jeans. In my experience, the law students who came to law school later in their career typically dressed “nicer”, but as with everything in law school, there will always be exceptions.

Regardless of your day to day outfits, you and your classmates will inevitably focus more on comfort and less on style the closer you get to finals season. If you’re showing up to the library on Saturday in clothes that were washed this week, then you’re ahead of the pack by a fair margin – or you’re not studying enough.

There are very few wrong answers when it comes to dressing for your classes. Though, as Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, “I know it when I see it.”

Notwithstanding the forgoing, and assuming you get to experience some semblance of pre-COVID law school life, you’ll want to have a few things in your closet beyond sweatpants and t-shirts.

* **Exception 1a: “Bar Review.”**

Most law schools in bigger cities have them, and they have nothing to do with professional licensing. Rather, a “bar review” is an event where the law student council will rent out a bar or a club so you and your classmates can drink, socialize, and generally get to know each other outside of your self-imposed torture that is trying to figure out what the actual fuck the “rule against perpetuities” is. Many of your male/male-presenting classmates will probably wear a sporty button up shirt with slacks or dark jeans. Others might stick with flannel or chambray shirts with jeans or chinos. Still others might choose to try their hand at whatever streetwear fit they think they can pull off.

Ultimately, it’s a chance for you and your classmates to see each other put your “best face forward”, even though you’ve already seen each other go through various emotional breakdowns in the cafeteria, sobbing into your grilled cheese as you fight the urge to quit because if you don’t quit then maybe you’ll find validation in this cruel and indifferent world.

* **Exception 1b: Barrister’s Ball and Other Evening Functions.**

Many law schools used to have things we called “Barrister’s Balls”, which is often nicknamed “law school prom” It’s essentially a giant Bar Review with a semi-formal / black tie optional dress code. Very few of your classmates will wear tuxedos, though a few bolder guys might try a fun dinner jacket. Almost all of the other guys, and some women and non-binary folks, will be wearing dark suits. Is it the biggest sin in the world to show up with a sport coat and trousers? Probably not. But there’s an open bar serving unlimited liquid courage, your moderately attractive classmate who sat next to you in civil procedure class is going to be there, and the DJ is playing the right mix of music, so put in the effort.

Likewise, there may also be events over the course of the year where your school or various legal organizations will hold events that call for a similar semi-formal or cocktail attire dress code These are good opportunities to have fun – or, more realistically, to “network” while enjoying an open bar. .

* **Exception 2a: **

I don’t care if your uncle – who also told you not to go to law school – shows up to his firm every day dressed like he walked out of a brochure for a Montana retirement community. You will need to own a fairly conservative suit for interviews. I say that while recognizing that it is entirely possible that you’ll go the rest of your working life never wearing a suit again, aside from the occasional wedding or funeral. For example, I have a friend who has spent his entire legal career – going all the way back to his 1L summer internship – working for the legal department of the same company.

The standard MFA advice rings extra true for the legal profession: if you only buy one suit, your best bet is to go with grey or navy. It should not be black. That isn’t to say you need to find the most boring Platonic Ideal version of that suit. Feel free to go beyond the dark navy or dark charcoal and pick a suit in the mid greys or lighter navys. A subtle pattern is also acceptable when done well . Avoid loud pinstripes and uncommon colors – you want your resume and “personality” to do the talking.

You don’t need to worry too much about the “quality” of the suit at the law school interview phase. No one is expecting you to drop several grand on some made to measure or bespoke outfits with luxury fabrics and your name monogrammed in the jacket – especially when you’re about to enter an ever crumbling legal market with a negative six-figure net worth. However, absent nepotism, you will need to make a good impression during your interviews.

You can go a long way with Spier & Mackay, Suitsupply, or even a Macy’s suit if times are tough. Just make sure the suit is made of wool and, FFS, make sure it fits. I don’t simply mean get it tailored, which is an absolute must. I mean learn how a suit should look on your body. There are guides on this sub and elsewhere that have various tips for making sure your suit fits. Understand that tailors are not miracle workers, and if the jacket is too tight or too big in the shoulders, they generally cannot fix it. Also recognize that just because you have an extreme body type doesn’t mean that your suit emphasizes that fact: rail-thin guys don’t need to wear the skinniest of skinny suits, and

Finally, don’t wear a three piece on your interviews. I love a good three piece as much as the next guy – and own a couple, personally – but they are too much of a statement for an interview. Keep the waistcoat at home and save it for a wedding or something.

Pair your suit with a plain white or light blue shirt with and a conservative tie. You may think you look cool wearing a , but save that for Vegas or your mob-connected cousin’s wedding. Make sure you’re buying a dress shirt that is sized based on your neck and arms – e.g., it might say “16.5 – 34/35 on the label” – not “S/M/L”. Spend the extra 45 seconds of your life to get measured. If you have massively irregular proportions, then you may need to buy a shirt and get it tailored or even have a shirt made to measure.

The “rules” say that you must match your dress socks with your trouser color, but most people don’t care and generally won’t notice it anyway. You’re not going to lose out on a summer associate job because you wore black socks with a navy suit or navy socks with a grey suit. Some personality in your sock game is fine. Just don’t go overboard and wear bright orange socks with your royal blue suit during OCI – you’re applying for a legal job, not head coach of the Florida Gators.

As counterintuitive as it sounds, if you’re a sweaty guy like me, wear an undershirt. An undershirt is helpful because it will catch any sweat/antiperspirant stains and thereby prolong the life of your dress shirts. It can also reduce the amount of visible underarm dampness.

The shirt, tie, and socks can all be bought on the pretty cheap without sacrificing looks. I’m all for buying a quality product you use for a while versus buying cheap fast fashion, but the reality is you are pinching pennies during law school. That said, unless you’re buying some miracle “performance” or “technical fabric” dress shirt , stick to cotton over polyester for your dress shirt.

Buy a pair of black or brown leather lace up shoes. Go for oxfords or derbys/bluchers, preferably with a rounded toe. Before my time, the lawyer’s uniform required a black cap-toe Oxford with no broguing . These days, unless you’re going to meet the President or interview for a SCOTUS clerkship, you have some leeway. Even the most old fashioned and prestigious law firms will still look your way if you dare have a pair of brown Fifth Avenues instead of black Park Avenues. Outside of the Vault 10, people will be grateful that your shoes are in good condition and have laces – it shows you can do something their 4 year old can’t.

Good leather shoes are versatile enough to wear in all sorts of occasions. Skip the kind that combine leather uppers and sneaker bottoms. Look for shoes that are made with either “Goodyear welt” or “Blake stitch” construction that are made with decent quality leathers. Those kinds of shoes can be resoled over and over, prolonging their useful life. If the product description online doesn’t say the construction method or doesn’t tell you anything about the leather, then skip them. The rule of thumb for shoes and mattresses is that they’re worth getting the best you can afford. If you get a decent pair and treat them right, they’ll last you well into your second divorce. Commonly recommended brands for quality leather shoes at a decent prices include, in no particular order, Beckett Simonon, Meermin, Thursday Boots, and Allen Edmonds . Avoid Cole Haan and Johnston & Murphy.

Remember that most lawyers are boring as shit, and – to the extent possible – leave piercings and loud jewelry at home.

You might notice I put most of my styling recommendations for suiting under this category and not the earlier ones like Bar Review. That’s because Bar Review, alumni mixers, and charity auctions are all optional and give you the opportunity to creatively style yourself within reason. Interviews have far more at stake, and are decidedly non-optional for almost everyone.

* **Exception 2b: Court.**

Many of you decided to go to law school because you loved Law & Order or you idolized Atticus Finch. Maybe you saw Erin Brockovich and want to get wealthy securing 9-figure settlements and verdicts. Maybe you or your significant other have a R. B. G. tattoo and would like to argue before – or be seated on – the Supreme Court.

No matter the reason, if you want to be a litigator – especially a “trial lawyer” – then you have get in court experience. Law school does a garbage job of preparing you for actual courtroom work, so you will need to go out of your way to volunteer at clinics, or extern with your local DA or PD’s office.

When you take on that externship or that clinic work, and you walk into court, your goals are twofold: 1) you want to learn the job; and 2) you want to avoid annoying the judge to the point where they start wondering why they didn’t retire and become a mediator.

I can’t help you with the first part, but the second part is simple: judges want to be treated with respect. Indeed, they ARE the Court. Many judges feel like respecting the Court means both being prepared AND dressing like you take the matter & the Court seriously.

If you’re doing courtroom you work every / almost every day for an extended period , you should have more than one suit. At your stage in life, it doesn’t matter whether that manifests as one “good” suit and one cheap suit, or just two cheap suits. As a practical matter, wearing the same suit every day is going to cause undue wear and tear – even to a good suit. Spreading your wears over multiple suits can help you stretch their longevity.

The same waistcoat advice for interviews applies here. You might see some young looking prosecutor at your office wearing one to court every once in a while, but you aren’t him. He’s got the job already, and he’s probably spent more time in court than you’ve spent doing pretty much anything else.

> “Wow, you really know how to say very little while writing a lot…

Comes with the territory.

> “… Anyway, that tells me how to dress as a law student. But what do I wear when I pass the bar and become a lawyer?

If*** you pass the bar, it will be time to break out the old chestnut: “It depends.” For post graduation interviews, the rules still apply: wear a suit unless expressly told not to ahead of time. There, of course, two addenda. First, the older and more experienced you get, the more you should feel free to be more flexible in terms of the kinds of suits, shirts, and ties you wear. Second, at the time that I’m writing this guide, there is still a pandemic going on. I have had a handful of interviews over Zoom, where I had a jacket and tie but not the full suit. Each time, the interviewer commented that I didn’t need to bother with the tie.

Every workplace is going to have its quirks and expectations, and it’s up to you to ask questions, be observant, and use common sense. That being said, here are some helpful tips for various environments.

**Business attire.** In general, there’s 3 categories of lawyer workplaces where you’ll be expected to wear business attire : government ; certain white shoe firms; and flashy small firms. The first two are going to be fairly conservative, with some wiggle room for things like modest pinstripes and patterns. These are people who take themselves seriously and expect you to do the same. The flashy small firm is a whole other beast. This includes your high value PI firms, entertainment law firms, etc. These people are trying to sell their idea of success and power – usually to people who are trying to make a whole bunch of money in a big way – and that means drip. Expect their suits to run the gamut from the mundane navy and charcoal to houndstooth patterns and unique colors. If you find yourself at that kind of firm, my advice is to focus on better quality suits. Don’t be afraid to ask a well dressed coworker where he got his stuff. SS and S&M are still fine here, but you can do better – and no more Macys, Joseph A. Bank, or Mens Wearhouse. I’ve known attorneys that eventually ended up with 10-12 suits that they’d rotate so there’s no repeating in two weeks, but that was accumulated over nearly a decade. YOU, on the other hand, can probably start with two suits and use a wide variety of dress shirts and ties to mix things up.

**Business casual.** Anecdotally, this is going to be the most common day to day attire for law firms of all sizes. Where you live will dictate a how this manifests for you. Living in Southern California, this means a well fitting cotton dress shirt and slacks or chinos with leather shoes most of the year. In winter, this might mean throwing a light sweater over the shirt. In New York or Chicago, you might break out the sweater in fall and a sport coat in winter. In Atlanta, it might mean linen or some other breathable fabrics 9 months out of the year. I personally appreciate business casual as a dress code because it means I still have a full closet of truly casual clothes on the weekends. And when you’re starting out, if you’re strategic with cycling shirt/pants combos and wearing undershirts, you can stretch a fairly limited wardrobe for a while. This style is also great if you expect clients to come into the office regularly or if you plan on taking a lot of depositions. In a real emergency, if you keep a suit jacket/sport coat & tie at the office or in your car, you can cover an emergency court hearing.

**Casual attire.** Even before the pandemic, a lot of firms were adopting a casual dress code. I personally think the real name for this dress code should be “don’t be an idiot”, since that is the one rule you need to follow. It’s fine if you want to a t-shirt or polo with jeans, but avoid stained clothes or inappropriate designs. I don’t care how tastefully aesthetic your totally-not-a-hentai t-shirt graphic is, it’s not a great idea for the office. When in doubt, repeat Potter Stewart’s mantra a few times in the mirror.

> “Are you done?”


I hope that some of you found this guide useful . If you have things you’d like me to follow up or expand on, let me know and I can write a follow-up.

Thanks for reading.

So You’ve Ruined Your Life: A Guide for Law Students, Lawyers, and the People Who (Allegedly) Love Them.