I have received numerous emails from law students requesting advice about the Biglaw interview day. I once again solicited the input of other recruitment professionals in order to compile a list of the items that candidates should keep in mind on their interview day.
Please recall that, as members of the recruitment staff, we are not the individuals who conduct the interviews; rather, we hear secondhand about the reasons why a candidate is or is not advanced in the process. The following list contains our collective thoughts, but, ultimately, a candidate needs to be true to him or herself during the interview process:
We’ve been focusing on what women wear for legal appearances for quite some time, but now we’re going to give the men a chance. Previously, we’d said that men were “basically given a free pass, so long as they don’t show up … looking like they just rolled out of a dumpster.”
Today, we’re going to slightly modify that statement. We’ll now note that men are given a free pass, so long as they don’t show up looking like they’ve just strolled out of a 1940s gangster flick wearing pork pie hats and blue velvet suits.
In both of these stories, others are telling females how to look acceptably feminine. Judge Kopf instructs female lawyers not to appear overtly sexual. School officials instruct Sunnie not to appear overtly boyish. In each case, the powers that be seem to dictate the narrow swath between too-feminine and not-feminine-enough. Women and girls must be recognizably female while not spotlighting the sex traits that make them female.
That’s one gloss.
Here’s another. Let’s talk about sex and uniforms . . . .
Does what women wear to work matter? Of course it does, especially in a profession where looks are valued almost as highly as other qualities expected of a good lawyer, like exemplary analytical and interpersonal skills.
When we say “looks” here, we mean a lawyer’s ability to dress appropriately given the circumstances, but being attractive certainly doesn’t hurt. Men are basically given a free pass. So long as they don’t show up to court looking like they just rolled out of a dumpster, they’ll be given the respect they’re due.
Women, on the other hand, don’t have a uniform that they can wear to court like their male colleagues, and that’s where the trouble begins. Women lawyers have been told countless times to resist the urge to dress like harlots, with style suggestions ranging from the incredibly obvious (be wary of skirts too short and necklines too low) to the incredibly absurd (“think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe”).
The sick thing is that most of these style advisories have come from other women. Don’t follow trends? You look too frumpy. Follow too many trends? You look too skanky. A federal judge recently called attention to this perverse gender bias, but perhaps he could’ve used some more delicate language.
If you’re a woman working in the legal profession, the odds are already stacked high against you, especially if you want to work for a large law firm. You’ll likely be paid less than your male colleagues. You’ll find that your life’s work has been reduced to a diversity talking point. Motherhood might as well be a crime. You can’t even dress yourselves without assistance.
We’ve heard about that last point of contention from law schools, multiple bar associations (see here and here), and even law firms. The latest slight against women comes from yet another law school, one perhaps too eager to assure potential employers that its female students exude the sensibilities of Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe.
How many times do women in the law need to be told not to dress like streetwalkers? Enough already…
Ed. note: Please welcome Above the Law’s new poet-in-residence, Qui Tam. You can read his inaugural column (and poem) over here.
On-campus interviews: the topic of this week’s Qui Tam observational “poem.” I can’t imagine a more dehumanizing job-related experience, unless of course you were one of those students who didn’t get any….
Cleary Gottlieb switched over from “summer casual” to all-year business casual between my summer and starting full-time, so I never experienced a mandatory business attire office. Some senior folks would kvetch about the falling standard of decorum, but I suspected those guys were really just annoyed that they’d built a truly impressive suit collection and sat idly by as their wife started letting the tailor needle her, and for what? Younger lawyers rejoiced because not having to blow out a suit collection amounted to a functional bonus. I never experienced the full-on business dress policy, but personally, I could never imagine wearing business attire every day if for no other reason than business attire isn’t really conducive to the 18-hour workday.
More than a decade into the business casual movement, there are still holdouts demanding a return to the formality of the good old days. The problem with all these irritated partners is it’s not really possible to preach business attire without looking like a tool….
Everyone is familiar with the saying that you only get one chance to make a first impression. We size people up at a glance. People like to think that they take time to adequately weigh decisions, but in reality we often rely on “thin-slicing,” as popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Blink (affiliate link):
“Thin-slicing refers to the ability of our unconscious mind to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience. The unconscious works by sifting through the situation in front of you, parsing out irrelevant data and homing in on what really matters.”
What this means is that we are constantly making micro-decisions at a subconscious level about the world around us all the time. Now, that doesn’t mean we are always making good decisions or judgments, but we are making them. Which is why lawyers need to care about how they appear — in person and in print.
And from a filed Answer in a lawsuit that a reader sent me, it’s a lesson that one lawyer needs to learn….
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Ferguson, Finkelman & Fletcher are nationally recognized experts and seasoned veterans in the areas of overall technology, electronic discovery, and structured data. At OmniVere, the team will be focused on all global consulting activities with respect to legal compliance, complex data analytics, business intelligence design and analysis, and electronic discovery service offerings.
The Trust Women conference is an influential gathering that brings together global corporations, lawyers and pioneers in the field of women’s rights. Unlike many other events, Trust Women delegates take action and forge tangible commitments to empower women to know and defend their rights.
This year, the Trust Women conference will take place 18-19 November in London. From women’s economic empowerment to slavery in the supply chain and child labour, this year’s agenda is strong and powerful. Speakers include Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate and founder of the Grameen Bank; Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women; Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking and many other influential leaders. Find out more about Trust Women here.