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Looking The Part: How Important Are Lawyer Stereotypes?

What does a lawyer look like? In a world full of stereotypes, the word ‘lawyer’ typically conjures up images of older men in suits, holding forth in front of a courtroom or handling a tough negotiation. For young women just breaking into the legal field, then, these stereotypes pose particular challenges. How do you break old-fashioned and sexist models while still earning clients’ trust?

In order to strike a balance between oppressive tradition and authenticity, your best bet is to focus on professionalism in its broadest sense. These 3 strategies can help you project that polished image, even if you don’t “look like a lawyer.”

Put Your Best Face Forward

One of the simplest ways to project a professional appearance to potential clients is by taking a quality headshot. You’ll use that photo in press communications, on your website, and anywhere else your image is called for. Even if you don’t normally dress up to go into the office, your headshot should represent your best court-ready look. You can’t attract a client base if they view you as immature or unprofessional.

Hitch a Ride

If you ask people what they think about lawyers, most will spout stereotypes such as “lawyers are wealthy” or “lawyers drive fancy cars,” but if you’ve just finished law school and you’re buried under debt, a fancy car probably isn’t in the cards. But that shouldn’t be a big deal, right? As a lawyer, does it really matter what kind of car you drive?

It matters to your clients. Many people assume that drivers who have shabby vehicles are unsuccessful and lose in court, while the best lawyers drive flashy, expensive cars. That’s why you need a vehicle that strikes a balance between affordable and enviable.

One way to split the difference between what you can afford and the image you need to project is by financing a new vehicle. It doesn’t have to be a Jaguar or a Lexus, just something without rust and dents. Then drive carefully and keep it clean. Just like when you dress for the courtroom, appearances matter.

Trust Yourself

Just because you’ve entered a traditional field doesn’t mean you need to reinvent yourself to fit within its confines. Rather, long-term success and fulfillment are often contingent on maintaining a sense of authenticity and trusting yourself. You aren’t a robot in a suit, programmed to practice law; you’re a real, empathetic, and intelligent woman that’s central to your professional appeal.

Part of protecting your authentic self is taking time away from the strain and stereotypes. Don’t answer your phone outside of office hours unless it’s an emergency. Pursue independent hobbies. Just because you have a fast-paced job doesn’t mean you have to work 24/7. You get to have a life beyond the law, and you should.

Lawyers aren’t the most popular in the public perception, but individual practitioners are more than walking stereotypes. Whether you “look like a lawyer” or you’re part of a growing group of women and minorities breaking the mold, you get to make your own way as you grow your career.

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