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"Business casual" in American law firm evening functions?

josepidal

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I'm a foreign student at Harvard Law School and I passed by the hiring reception of a big law firm in a bar in Harvard Square. The dress code was "business casual."

I came in a blazer with puff folded pocket square, pink dress shirt with French cuffs, blue tie with fun prints that were definitely not for business, light khakis, and chestnut Edward Grreen wingtips.

Half the male partners were in suits but most of the lawyers were in dress pants and shirts with folded up shirtsleeves. The students were mostly wearing shirts with folded up shirtsleeves, with a few in striped shirt and jeans (the SF "Amjack" look).

I was wondering if it was okay or if I should ditch the tie next time. Our career counselor advised that "business casual" is always tricky but you can always err on the side of being overdressed since the partners will be in suits anyway (and I'm slightly older than the American students albeit much shorter).

I ended up going around and having fun conversations with the lawyers, but settled in a quiet corner with a corporate partner from the head office who described his work and the firm's international practice in some detail.

Thoughts?
 

mack11211

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It sounds like the function was a success for you, so why not retain the same level of formality?
 

royal618

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What does 'fun prints' on a tie mean?

You can never be overdressed. Well, perhaps you could, but you wouldn't be wearing a top hat now would you?
 

Soph

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SartorialSheepdog

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Definitely ditch the tie. Quite possibly the blazer and puff too. A well fitting shirt, good pants, and nice shoes should be plenty to differentiate you from the hoards of poorly dressed law students.
 

Master Shake

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As an attorney at one of these types of firms, I can say that you will definitely get a strange look if you wear a tie. I can't recall a single student wearing a necktie at any of the recruiting receptions I've attended. You can also expect the same type of dress from the attorneys across all the firms. The partners often will be in suits, the associates will almost never be in even a sportscoat (SF members like me are the exception, of course).

The whole atmosphere of these types of events is very casual. We expect the students are there primarily to get free drinks, and so anyone dressed in anything resembling a semi-professional appearing outfit runs the chance of being thought of as trying too hard.

If you want to wear a tie, then by all means, go ahead. Just don't overlook the fact that some attorneys -- who generally love the idea of business casual -- will find it offputting.
 

Earthmover

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Personally, I don't think it matters whether you wear a tie or not -- they are there to recruit you guys, not the other way around.

That being said, having gone to these things, a tie isn't usually done. While anathema to some here, I think overdressing for these occasions would be something like an open-collar dress shirt with a sportcoat and wool trousers. I wouldn't go any higher than that if you don't want clothes distracting you as a person.
 

GBR

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I would say way over formal. Partners may consider that their position requires them to wear a suit (probably wrong really as they should mingle and show that they do have a non-business side to their lives and clothes to demonstrate that) but unless you are of their rank then you would be better served without jacket or tie and with shirt sleeves rolled up to mid-fore arm.


You can over dress quite easily and I think you have - grossly.
 

odoreater

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Yeah, as much as I generally agree that it would be nice if we all went back to wearing suits and whatnot at these types of functions, these functions are really more like going to a nice bar with friends than going to a dinner at an expensive restaurant. As others have said, wearing a tie makes you look like you are a "gunner" and nobody really likes the gunners, especially young associates at firms and your fellow law school students. You might be able to pull off a sports coat as long as you don't look like you just came from the AAAC Trad Forum, but definitely lose the tie.
 

Mentos

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I would say that you should lose the tie and avoid cufflinks. You don't want to come off as too dandy. You might skip the pocket square, as well, though I don't think that that's as important. I'd keep the jacket, esp. as it gets colder. You're in a tough spot, b/c you don't want to come off as uppity, but people will expect you to look a little professional once they learn that you're already a lawyer--you don't want to look like you're slumming through your LLM. But probably not a danger in your case, I'd guess.

Just keep in mind that the American legal profession has been spun into business casual hell, and that no one knows how make it look good. Thus the terrible attire. It's not a pretty place to work, but you have to look like you can fit into the office culture. At the same time, people expect "foreigners" to look a little better.

And if anyone gives you grief, just fall back on the ol' "In my country [insert social norm or method of lawyering]"--the refrain of millions of LLM students before you.
 

josepidal

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I guess you guys are right; the outfit is probably fine but the tie can be offputting.

European classmates and some females pay attention to visibly nice ties, though (in terms of fabric, not style). Some females seem to find the pocket square cute as well.
 

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