The words contained in the title above recently landed a random Google searcher on our blog. Couple that random search with the fact that I’ve been absolutely dying to write a post on this particular topic for the past several months, and the words, “how to dress like a paralegal” gave me a swift kick in the paralegal skinny pants. I’m here to share the 3 items that, in my humble opinion, every paralegal on the planet should own. While you may not wear or carry these items every day, you darn sure better own them.
While there are a variety of dress codes within the legal world, namely: serious business, business-casual, and uber casual, I am here to tell you that there is a “Trifecta” for paralegal attire which must be acknowledged. Whether you are an experienced paralegal or a student slowly climbing your way up the rungs of the career ladder one carefully placed high heel at a time, today, we’re going to address “The Paralegal Trifecta.” Here goes:
ONE: A nice suit. For many of you, this suggested item will seem so incredibly obvious that you will have no idea how it made the number one slot. (I’m totally with you on that. Truly. Keep reading…) But I am consistently amazed by the number of paralegals I have encountered during the course of my career who did not bother to own a suit. I use the term “did not bother” because that truly seems to be what it is. They do not bother to buy one.
By years 2-3, I’m starting to wonder if you have any idea that you even need a suit to thrive in a business world – much less the legal arena where you will be surrounded by people wearing suits on a regular basis, if not daily. This is especially true of anyone working in litigation. (x 30,000)
Whether your office is “major” business or business casual makes absolutely no difference. Do not hide behind a dress code or offer it up as an excuse. Let’s say you work in that uber casual office where a sweater and jeans will get you by on most days. Perhaps you work in an environment where people generally don’t wear suits and you can get by wearing dress slacks and a nice, button-down shirt. But if you had a job interview or incredibly important meeting tomorrow, you would need a suit – casual office policy or not. Please, for the love of all that is legal, buy at least ONE nice suit. Black is a great choice. Stick with a solid suit or subtle pattern that is conservative in appearance.
My favorite place to buy suits is Stein Mart – you can buy a $200+ suit for about $100 without a coupon or sale. That said, I had to work my way up to the nicer suits. I initially started out purchasing $50-60 suits from stores like Kohl’s or JC Penny’s. And you better believe I looked for sales and coupons…still do. Make a mental note when buying a new suit as to whether it is dry clean only or washable. If you do not have money for dry cleaning (it does add up), always search for suits in the latter category. Shop smart. But please do shop for at least one suit!
TWO: A Padfolio. Think of this as an accompaniment to your suit. Where it goes – your padfolio goes. These two items generally go hand-in-hand, much like conjoined twins. Important interview? Big meeting? Paralegal event? Arrive with both items – the suit and the padfolio. Unless, of course, you know the dress code is going to be business casual, in which case your padfolio can go it alone.
A padfolio serves two primary purposes: (1) It keeps you organized and gives you a sturdy base on which to take notes when you find yourself in less than ideal writing situations; (2) It helps you to portray a more poised, polished, professional upon first sight. I can’t begin to tell you how much I adore my padfolio during the process of jury selection. I am usually seated behind my attorneys’ table, so it makes for a stable writing surface and allows me to appear far more “with it” and organized than I otherwise would, feverishly scribbling down notes on a flimsy notepad teetering across the top of my lap, sliding left, sliding right, and if I’m lucky, sliding back to center…with a glimmer of notepad-rollercoaster-wrangling sparkling out from behind my eyes.
When selecting a padfolio, go with a solid color or one with only a faint pattern, that is conservative in appearance. Great colors to choose are: black, brown, gray or navy. Most will have a slot for you to insert a regular sized notepad, a few pens, and your business cards, in addition to having some extra space to store (did I say “store,” I really meant shove…) documents.
THREE: An Oversized Handbag or Briefcase. I want you to imagine yourself in a courtroom for the first time. You will need to bring the following items along “on your person:” legal sized charts for voir dire/jury selection, several note pads, a handful of assorted pens, highlighters and fine-point felt tip markers, large post it notes, small post it notes, a few granola bars, a bottle of nail polish (ladies), your wallet, a fabric softener sheet in case your hair is flying crazy static into the wind, car keys, breath mints or gum, your parking stub, your cell phone, chapstick or any other essential make-up items, a few pages of witness contact info., and several other items I am probably not thinking of in this moment.
That pivotal moment your attorney turns to you in need of a pad of post it notes because he can’t seem to readily locate one of the half dozen pads you placed in front of him at the table earlier that day? ‘Tis done. That fun moment when your legal team has officially used up (or misplaced) the armada of notepads sitting before them? ‘Tis done. This mini arsenal of supplies will make you look like a trial-need-fulfilling ninja. Only instead of throwing those little pointy stars, you’ll be whirling hightlighters and voir dire charts through the air. Wa-chaw.
When selecting an oversized handbag, select one that is solid in color: black, brown, gray or navy, and ensure that it will fit at least a regular sized notepad. You can always fold and clip the pages of any legal size documents (so long as they aren’t being filed with the court or aren’t that important), but you will need to fit notepads in your handbag or briefcase. You never know when you might be called over to a witness in the hall, approached by an expert or an attorney who begins to share really important, unexpected information with you in the hallway…or even in the bathroom. (Yes, this has actually happened to me.) You will be glad you have an arsenal of supplies tucked under your arm in this moment – I can assure you.
Do not be one of those paralegals entering the courtroom wielding a regular handbag (or no bag at all), clearly not fit to carry all of the items you must have as the legal team’s concierge and legal-tactical assault ninja. Wa chaw. Where you go, a bounty of necessary supplies goes.
Wishing you an absolutely fabulous day working among those brave, resilient souls in the legal trenches just prior to sliding out that door in your high heels or slippery soled oxfords on this paralegal holiday otherwise known as “Friday.” Happy shopping, my friends! Just tell your husband or wife the TPS Founder said you MUST go shopping. It’s a career requirement.
Dress Code for the Paralegal
What to wear to work as a paralegal
Below are some guidelines you can use to pick out your paralegal attire. Its important to note that your offices specific recommendations and requirements should take precedence over the tips listed here.
There are two common styles you may come across at your law firm: business casual or business formal. Here are the generally accepted guidelines and wardrobe items for each:
Business casual is the most common dress code across all businesses. It is more professional than most peoples everyday attire, but it allows you some degree of freedom to express your personality. Other terms you may hear to describe business casual are “smart casual” or “executive casual.”
Common clothing items considered acceptable for business casual include:
Some law offices require that everyone adhere to a business formal dress code. In the business formal dress code, there are stricter guidelines to follow. The purpose of business formal is to give off a very professional and sophisticated look throughout the company.
Common items in a business formal dress code include:
When wearing a suit, ensure that the pants or skirt and jacket match. For example, its standard to wear a black jacket with black pants or a black skirt or a blue jacket with blue pants or a blue skirt.
Why is it important to know the paralegal dress code?
Law firms place a strong emphasis on professionalism in everything they do, and this includes the appearance of their employees. In this way, your appearance represents the law firm itself.
Dressing appropriately also allows you to fit in with your coworkers. Abiding by the dress code is a symbol that you are a part of the same team. You can still have your own sense of style within the paralegal dress code, but its best to develop it within the guidelines set by the firm.
Tips for dressing appropriately
Below are a few tips you can use to dress appropriately at your paralegal job:
Ask HR for the dress code
If you are unsure of the dress code at your law firm, talk to the HR department. They can provide you with a copy of the dress code so that you know exactly what to wear. Keep a copy of this document at home and reference it whenever you are unsure if an outfit is appropriate for work.
Start with the most professional clothes
When working as a paralegal, it is often better to dress in your most professional attire when you first start. Then, as you grow more comfortable with the workplace environment, you can better decide on which outfits are appropriate based on what your supervisors and colleagues wear.
Buy items that pair well together
As youre shopping for your paralegal attire, look to buy items that match each other. The key to doing this is selecting items in simple colors that all go well together. This allows you to save money, as you wont need to buy completely distinct outfits for each day of the work week.
Take good care of your clothes
While style is important as a paralegal, its good to ensure your clothes remain in excellent condition. Appearing professional is about more than just buying the right clothes—it also means wearing them in a way that demonstrates pride and responsibility. This includes removing wrinkles, washing clothes regularly, buying clothes that fit properly and getting items tailored if needed. Doing so helps to improve your appearance and prolong the life of your clothing items.
FAQs about paralegal dress code
The following are some frequently asked questions related to paralegal dress codes:
Is the paralegal dress code the same every day?
Some offices have dress codes that vary based on the day. For example, if you are not seeing clients on a specific day, you may be able to dress in business casual rather than in business formal attire. Some law firms also institute a casual day, allowing everyone to dress down on that day of the week or month.
Do I need to cover my tattoos?
Most law firms ask employees to cover their tattoos. Therefore, its helpful to choose clothing that covers your tattoos as best as possible. For example, if you have a tattoo on your wrist, you may wish to wear long-sleeved blouses or keep your button-ups sleeves rolled down while at work.
Can I wear jewelry as a paralegal?
Some jewelry is acceptable as a paralegal. High-quality watches, earrings and necklaces are typically fine. Generally speaking, its best to keep jewelry to a minimum and choose pieces that are simple. For example, plain gold hoop earrings are likely okay, while numerous flashy bracelets are less likely to fall within an offices dress code.
What should you wear as a paralegal?
- Short- or long-sleeved collared shirts.
- Dress slacks.
- Pressed khakis.
- Skirts no shorter than four inches above the knee.
- Sweaters and blouses in simple patterns or colors.
- Dresses in a neutral color.
- Jackets or sports coats.
- Neutral-colored ties.
What do paralegal men wear?
What should I wear to a paralegal interview?
Do paralegals wear heels?