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Does Your Small Firm or Solo Practice Need a Dress Code? 3 Tips

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

The beauty of running your own firm is running your own firm: nobody tells you what to do, what to wear, or when to turn out the lights and go home. The flexibility to set your own wardrobe is especially appealing -- why wear a suit to the office if you're going to spend the entire day mostly alone, catching up on paperwork? But with freedom comes risk: portraying an unprofessional image, alienating clients and coworkers, or worse.

We're all about business casual, or if it's a client-free day, maybe even full casual, but there are a few things you should consider when setting a policy for yourself and your firm:

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Lead Us Not Into Temptation

If you're solo, with no support staff, then the only person you'll be tempting is yourself. We'll let you ponder what that means for your dress code.

But, if you have support staff or associate attorneys, you might want to set some guidelines as to what attire is office appropriate. Tread carefully, as advice in this area is often seen as patronizing or worse, but blanket permission to wear whatever can backfire as well. A nice middle ground might be to have "business casual" or "smart casual" -- a descriptive policy that says "more than bro tanks and short skirts."

Keep Court Attire Handy

While it may not matter what you wear to the office, it does matter what you wear to court. And the time may come where you have an emergency hearing. Or even more likely: somebody spills food or coffee on you before an important meeting. You don't want to have to run home and change, especially if you have a hearing in an hour.

Instead, both you and your associates should keep a spare set of court-appropriate attire in the office or in the car: a suit, shoes, belt, etc.

Consider the Client

The most important consideration for your office's dress code is the clients: What message do you want to send? If you're representing startup companies, just a small step up from hoodies and jeans might set the right tone. College kids looking for a DUI lawyer might be amenable to casual attire as well, at least for in-office work.

But if you're representing bigger businesses, you might want to tailor your wardrobe to fit. A recent example from the ABA Journal was a firm that was representing Men's Warehouse -- they dropped their high-end Armani suits in favor of $600 house brand suits from the store itself. That made them look smart -- in more ways than one.

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