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By: Caren Mansfield (Guest Blogger)

Did you recently hear about the survey that concluded that people do not feel as good about themselves when they are having bad hair days? And that men are more sensitive than women over the issue? Of course, the deeper issue was that most people are just not as confident when they believe their appearance is not up to par. Duh! Okay, how does this relate to paralegals?

As paralegals, we represent to clients that we have knowledge and expertise. While many firms have dress codes that seem stuffy, and perhaps out of date, there may be valid reasons for not allowing men to wear shorts or ribald t-shirts to work and women to wear halter tops or sweat suits to work. Perhaps one reason is unpredictability.

Thinking back, I remember one occasion in particular like it was yesterday.  My boss was on vacation and those of us remaining in the office were casually dressed. We received a call from a client who was appearing before a judge in the local circuit court within minutes. Since there was no attorney in the office, I attended the hearing, only to inform the judge of counsel’s unavailability to the client. Unfortunately, while doing said informing, I was wearing a Hawaiian print shirt and shorts. Certainly, the impression was not one of competence. More like Gidget goes to the beach. Anyway, from that day forward, I have always hesitated before dressing casually. I question whether what I am wearing is appropriate if I had to appear before a hearing officer or judge. If not, then it is time to change clothes. One never knows if a similar occasion might occur.

Perhaps another reason for dressing for success, assuming you are not a rock star, is that despite all our wishes to the contrary, a first impression can be hard to dispel. While you may be wearing jeans and a Rams t-shirt because you were sifting through boxes in a warehouse earlier in the day, a client meeting you for the first time might not be aware of that fact and will likely wonder how industrious you, the casual Rams fan, will be on his or her behalf. Yes, these are prejudices. When I was young and very idealistic, I believed that it was the work you did, not what you wore, that made an impression. Now that I am not so young and idealistic, I realize that the work you do will make an impression, but that first impression is still important.

Perhaps another reason for a dress code is that the firm, in its all seeing omnipotence, knows that some people simply have poor taste and need a little direction in their business attire. (Note from TPS Founder: Um, how true is this? So true…) What you and I might find amusing to wear may not be what the firm considers correct business attire. Dressing for success may also depend on your location. What is required in larger cities may be too formal in rural areas.

So a lot of time and money was spent on a survey, funded by a corporation that produces hair care products, to surmise that basically, how we feel about ourselves can be determined by our appearance and whether or not we are having a bad hair day. What insight can we gain from this survey? That paralegals should dress so confidence is a natural result. No more bad hair days!


Caren Mansfield has been employed as a paralegal since 1987 by the same firm. She is employed by the law offices of Baker, Baker & Krajewski LLC in Springfield, Illinois and specializes in labor and employment law litigation. She is a graduate of the American Institute for Paralegal Studies and obtained the credential of Certified Legal Assistant in 1996. She has been a member of the Illinois Paralegal Association since 1988 and currently serves on its Board of Directors. She has held the offices of president, vice president, secretary and treasurer. While she was President the IPA saw its highest membership.

She has participated as a speaker at the IPA’s Education Seminars, at an NFPA Education Seminar, and in other public settings on topics ranging from Discovery, Ethics, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Filing a Charge of Discrimination through Trial, Law Office Administration and more. She was instrumental in assisting in the preparation of a video about the IPA as well as a broadcast about the paralegal profession on public television in central Illinois. In addition to her duties as an IPA board member she also submits articles regarding paralegals several times a month to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin’s Legal Employment Weekly. She serves as a mentor to paralegals.

Caren formerly served on the advisory board to the Sangamon State University (now University of Illinois-Springfield) Legal Studies program. She has served as a member of the advisory board to Robert Morris University’s paralegal program for over five years.

Hear that TPS readers? No more bad hair days…and for that matter, no more bad wear days either! We know, we know, some days it’s more challenging to pull two matching shoes from the dark closet than others.  We feel your pain!

Have a comment to share or perhaps a funny story? Just hit that button and sound off! Lord knows we’ve all seen our fair share of bad hair and bad wear days in our law firms!

Happy High Heel Friday, TPS readers! T.G.I.F. We’ll see you next week.