How to Dress for a Legal Interview – Tips on Men’s Suits, Shirts, & Shoes
As a law student, you are no stranger to pressure. With most of you grades determined off a single test, you view interviews as similar obstacles to your goal. However, if you tackle them by cramming for the interview hours before you walk in you’re bound to fall on your face when it comes to presentation. As Murphy’s Law would predict, the hardest time to assemble your interview attire is right before you need it.
Surprisingly very little is covered at Law Schools as to how to dress for legal interviews. Students spend 100K plus on their education yet wear $200 ill fitting suits and scuffed shoes to a law interview that is pivotal to their future employment. An interviewer makes a judgment about you within 3 seconds of meeting you; in other words before you can even open your mouth you’ve made a statement by how you dressed.
The good news for the law student is that the classical men’s suit style has remained the same for a hundred years. The bad news is that there are a lot of fashion suits out there that become dated faster than you can purchase them and wear twice. The key is to ignore temporary fashion, and understand what your timeless style is.
Remember three things when choosing a suit: Fabric, Style, and Fit.
When selecting a fabric for an legal interview suit, take into consideration its construction and color. Try to go with a natural fabric, preferably a worsted wool. If you go with a blend, try to ensure the synthetic make-up is 40% or less. Although a blend may keep the price down, it will not last as long and may have a tendency to breathe less. As to color choice, the safest selections are navy blue, charcoal, and black. Although you can move outside these three, understand you will stick out from a room of interviewees. But that isn’t always a bad thing.
When it comes to men’s suit style, go with a classical cut. In the United States this is a single breasted, notched lapel, two or three button jacket with a single or double back vent and regular flap pockets. Ensure you have at least as many cuff buttons as you have front jacket buttons (four buttons on the sleeve is normal) and check for a left breast pocket. Avoid patch pockets, peak lapels, and slanted side pockets unless you are confident you can pull this off. Also pay close attention to the lapels: a trend right now is thin lapels; avoid this fashion fad. With your trousers, consider pleated fronts. They are more formal that flat front trousers, and are more generally more comfortable. Cuffed bottoms usually look best on tall men, although either cuffed or un-cuffed is fine for a law interview. Finally, inspect the jacket and trousers for quality construction by tugging on buttons and inspecting the sewing.
Finally, fit; most men wear suits that are too large in one area or another. Try to find a brand whose cut matches your build, and don’t be afraid of going custom if you are difficult to fit or value your time and do not want to spend weeks shopping. Ensure the sleeves (when standing) show ½ to 1 inch of cuff and that the jacket lapels lay flat. You do not want the jacket when buttoned to form an X from tightness and the jackets shoulders should not extend past your shoulders. Finally, the jacket back should cover your backside, there should be no bunching of fabric in the back near your neck, and your jacket collar should show ¾ of an inch of shirt collar.
One way to get a perfect fit is to have your suit made to measure or hand crafted by a tailor, commonly referred to as bespoke. For the law student or recent graduate willing to invest at least 600 to 1000 dollars per suit, this is a great option; it will save you the time and frustration of searching for the ideal fitting jacket by helping you get exactly what you want quickly. Men who go down this path fall in love with the selection (thousands of fabrics), control over the build (any style, secret pockets, etc), and of course the perfect fit that no off-the-rack men’s suit can emulate. And when you are spending 100K on you education, the cost of the suit seems insignificant when it helps you land the job you seek.
The Dress Shirt
Again, take into consideration Fabric, Style, and Fit.
Shirt fabrics come in a much wider variety of colors and weaves than suits; a pink striped herringbone dress shirt can turn an ordinary navy suit into a outfit that demands attention while a conservative white broadcloth dress shirt can tone down a striped suit’s allure. It is no mystery that white and blue fabrics dominate the field; wearing earth tones or darker colored dress shirts requires skilled coordination and should be approached carefully when dressing for a legal interview. However, going with a unique fabric weave (such as a twill or herringbone) in a conservative color is a great way to retain your individuality while not making to much noise with your clothing ensemble. For law interviews, you might want to avoid patterns as that they make an outfit less formal; stick with solids of various weaves.
Two parts of your shirt will be showing when you wear a jacket; the collar and the cuffs. The collar type should be chosen based off of your facial structure. Men with long, thin faces should go with spread collars while round faced men should look to even out their face with a point collar. Normal barrel cuffs with one or two buttons are fine for all interviews; you may be tempted to wear cufflinks to your interview, but be careful. Some interviewers view this display of cuff jewelry as obnoxious.
As to fit, you should be able to put two fingers in-between your neck and the collar when buttoned. Your sleeves and cuffs should extend to the top of your hands, and you want to show approximately ½ to 1 inch of shirt cuff from under your jacket sleeve. Unfortunately it is very difficult to get both of these in an off the rack shirt. Law students, recent graduates, and legal professionals should look into custom made shirts; many online vendors, such as A Tailored Suit: Custom Men’s Clothing, can deliver excellent fitting garments for the same price as you would expect to pay at a quality brick-and-mortar store.
Your tie should be conservative for a legal interview. Red, Blue, or Gold are all popular favorites; stand out from the crowd by choosing a tie with a simple repeating pattern. Striped ties are a good choice, but you should be aware as to whether it is a regimental tie or not. In England, memberships of military clubs are symbolized by striped tie design. Unless you are going to be eating (where it serves to hold the tie in place), there is no reason to use a tie clip or tie pin in a law interview. Avoid bright colors, designs that draw attention from your face, and do not – I repeat, do not wear a novelty tie.
For law interviews we recommend a plain or capped black oxford. They features round toes and closed lacing. Plain Oxfords are one of the most formal options for business wear. Oxfords with broguing along the cap’s edge, or trimming the uppers, are still formal enough for a law interview in the US; in Europe they are normally more formal about these things, so be careful. Do not wear slip-ons, whether they are loafers, boots, or monkstraps. Although these are perfectly fine for a business casual luncheon or a suit without the tie, in a formal interview you need to have classic oxfords.
Your socks should match your slacks or shoes and be preferably dark in color. The goal here is to not draw attention to your legs. This isn’t the time to sport the no sock/short sock look or try that new pair of flashy hosiery. If the socks are seen, they should appear to flow seamlessly between the shoes and trouser cuff.
A wedding ring is always acceptable in an legal interview. Anything else is fair game and left up to the interviewer’s personal views on this matter. A class ring from Harvard, Yale, or Texas may give you a leg up if your interviewer is an Alumni or if you are in Dallas. But it may backfire. Nose rings, eye piercings, and earrings are becoming more accepted, but these pieces of jewelry do send a message. You cannot wear these pieces without it affecting a person’s impression of you. Be yourself, but be aware that it may not go over well with the interviewer.
Get a haircut a few days before the interview and ensure they trim around the neck and ears. Pay attention to the small things – your nails should be cut and clean and avoid cologne; this isn’t a date, and you might be in close quarters or a closed room. Final thoughts in preparing for your law interview – arrive early, get 8 hours of sleep, and be genuinely enthusiastic about the firm or company you are seeking to work for.
Behind every successful law interview are hours of preparation. As you study the firm you are going to interview with, pay attention to their unstated dress code. Maybe you have met a few of their employees; how did they present themselves? Were they conservative or relaxed in the appearance? Interviewing with Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz is very different than interviewing with Latham & Watkins; both require a suit, but you may be able to get away with a little more color out in California.
Understand that because you can control your personal presentation, failure to meet the basic levels of accepted appearance will be held against you. Proper planning and taking the time to select clothing that is timeless and conservative will ensure you have little to fear when you stand in front of an interviewer. And as Woody Allen says, 80% of success is showing up.