Independent Thinking: “Dressing For Success” vs. “Business Casual”

November 20, 2012

Small Law: Independent ThinkingOne thing is clear – no one agrees on what business casual actually means. I remember the first time I heard the term. It was the 90’s. I was speaking on “how to testify effectively as an expert witness” to a group of professionals. The materials for the seminar included the following: “The dress code for this seminar is ‘business casual’.” I, of course, thought it was a joke… I called the administrator who was arranging the event and asked, “What the heck does this mean?”

After her explanation of no ties or suits, I decided that the term “business casual” was never going to apply to me. Oh well- I was wrong.

Twenty years later and “business casual” is still here and it is still not completely understood. Google “business casual” and you will find that the only people who are absolutely certain of what it must mean are trying to sell you clothing.

At any rate, the term “business casual” is visible in more and more law offices today.

One thing that is crucial for law offices is to really look hard at the phrase “we are a business casual office” and ask “is this the best interest of our clients?”

Who are your clients?

I am not asking, “How do your clients dress?” I am asking, “Who are your clients and how do they expect their lawyer to look?” Are you only representing twenty-something millionaires who make video games? Okay, maybe your clientele expect their lawyer to wear jeans and a tee shirt—but maybe not—just because your clients work on the docks doesn’t mean that they want their lawyers to wear the same clothing they do at while working.

And there still is no great answer for “business casual” for women. I walked into Ann Taylor yesterday and was appalled by the fact that I couldn’t find a single non-translucent blouse anywhere in the “casual” section. If you are female and young, it is even trickier. Do you want your clients to believe that you are strong, capable, trustworthy and someone to be listened to every day of the week including Friday? Find “casual” outfits that you wouldn’t wear to court but that your friends might think of as “suits”. Hint: they might be in a different section of the department store!

If you are male and young, the uniform of the khakis, button down shirt, nice shoes and sport coat is still in style as “business casual” pretty much everywhere.

Finally, regardless of gender or age don’t forget – ALWAYS have court appropriate attire hanging on a hanger on the back of your office door. It tells your clients that you are ready to go to court at any time, or whenever necessary for them. Because your dedication to getting them justice right now is anything but casual.