Style Follows Substance: When Your Suit Makes You a Suit

Illustrated by: Olena Savytska

I’ve always loved suits. Ever since I was a little kid, I loved how suits could make me look smart (in the British and American sense), especially in adult situations like Sunday church service and Christmas parties. More than that, growing up as a slight introvert, I liked that they gave me the chance to stand out.


After spending my first summer with the in-house counsel of a business-casual (heavy on the casual) software firm, I relished the chance to wear a suit at EIP for four straight days among my peers and potential employers. With lackluster 1L grades and a desk full of summer job rejections, I had something to prove. My suit was just one weapon in my arsenal, but I wanted it sharp. So, over my last few weeks before white-collar battle, I acquired the necessary materials and molded my weapon. Tailored navy suit, walnut brown oxfords, sky-blue dress shirt, and a slim yellow tie with small navy dots. Clean with just a touch of personality.


So imagine my surprise when, resume and transcript in hand, I walked into the DoubleTree waiting room to meet a sea of my male classmates all wearing the same, unacknowledged uniform. With minor variations in a tie here and there, almost every guy was sporting a wool black suit, dull black yet comfortable-looking dress shoes, red tie, and the standard white poplin dress shirt. Very few of my friends had chosen an equally acceptable navy or gray suit, or donned another tie color such as–dare I say it–blue or green. I wasn’t expecting my classmates to mimic the covers of GQ and Esquire. It’s not that my classmates’ choice of dress lacked style. To me, their choice lacked courage.


I’d seen that lack of courage before, and I’d continue to see to it long after EIP. That sense of conformity pervades our choice in classes and extracurricular activities, and in the opportunities we pursue after graduation. What else could explain the same influx of students trying to get into Professor Jackson’s Corporations class (despite multiple other worthwhile professors)? The droves of my friends rushing into Federal Courts, Administrative Law, and Federal Income Taxation without an inkling of the application to their careers? Or the number of students, litigation-focused or not, applying to federal clerkships? Very few things we do in law school are easy. But it is easy to choose familiar and pre-determined paths.


It’s easy to choose a model that’s already been made for us, and “follow precedent.”  As students, we will find that choice even easier once many of us enter the corporate legal world. Our choice of employment and value is further commoditized by firm rankings, annual revenue, and billable hours. Flustered by our own ignorance about the legal world, we turn to the advice of our more senior peers and to the implicit biases of Career Services and AmLaw 100…like the comfort of an unassuming black suit and red tie.


But what about the critical thought and ingenuity that we’re expected to use in the classroom? The individuality that got us into law school in the first place? If we don’t use those creative skills in our academic careers, they will languish and be out-of-shape for our professional careers. Even current lawyers cite the importance of being more than just an employee for your firm or organization. That can mean pursuing passions such as running marathons, baking pastries, or writing fiction. Sometimes, it can mean expanding your role as a lawyer, by taking on court-appointed cases or doing pro bono work for your community. Like many of my friends, I’ve lamented the lack of diverse opportunities that the administration provides us during law school. But as law students, and also as future professionals, we should push to innovate when a desired opportunity isn’t available.


Some of our peers are already inspirations for creativity and innovation. Publications like The Muckraker explore legal, political and social issues beyond the myopic confines of the law journals. Newly organized student groups like SPIN are creating a professional and social network for students invested in public interest law. Concerned student advocates have succeeded in attaining more livable summer stipends for GSF and HRIP. These students are taking real risks, because they’re committing their time and their mental energy to projects that may not work out.


We take risks by not following the defined path. In the process, we learn about our own limits and develop necessary confidence. Beyond those benefits, our peers and mentors remember those risks because they’re unique to us and ultimately make us who we are.


Just like getting dressed for an interview or a job everyday, maintaining our goals and our passions takes work. It takes time and deliberate thought. So think about a course schedule unique to your interests next semester. While you’re at it, take an extra minute to think about a stylish suit and tie combination for your next interview–you’ll be surprised by how smart you look.


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