What NOT to Wear as an Intern or Summer Associate

Jun46_mini2016 Update: I still agree with all of my advice in this post, but you can also check out our most recent discussion on what not to wear to work here. – Kat

We’ve had a few great conversations on here about summer internships and summer associates (including what not to DO at your internship) and general professional fashion gaffes, but I thought we should have an open thread of advice for all the interns and summer associates starting out this summer. (Pictured: ZooBorns is a new-to-me site featuring baby zoo animal pictures.  The baby lion cub seemed relevant here…)

For my own $.02, here are some tips:

  • DO NOT WEAR SHORTS OR SANDALS OF ANY KIND UNLESS YOU SEE A SUPERIOR DO IT.  Similarly, your first week has probably already passed, but take a look around your office at the women superiors (NOT the other interns): are they wearing pantyhose when they wear skirts?  If they are, do not go bare-legged.
  • How long are your skirts?  Even if you didn’t grow up watching Ally McBeal, far too many skirts that are sold as professional ones are a bit too short for the office.  Check out our diagram and poll on how short is too short for an office skirt.
  • If you wear flip-flops for the commute, get those suckers off the second you get to the office. Going to a cocktail party after work does not count as “commuting” — find shoes that are comfortable to stand in.
  • Assess your hair. I passed a girl on the street yesterday wearing a messy bun on the very tippy-top of her head (a look I wore myself in my early 20s) and thought, “Perhaps she works in a creative field.” My point here: There are a ton of cute ways to pull your hair back on the weekend, but make sure that your casual “need to get my hair out of my face right this instant” look is appropriate for your office culture.  Hint: a low pony-tail works most everywhere; any ponytail or bun that sits higher than your ears may be suspect.
  • If you’re still learning the office culture but you interviewed in a blazer, bring one in to the office. Just a simple black one or white one will do. Then, if you get called to an important meeting at the last minute, throw a blazer on top of whatever you’re wearing.
  • Don’t carry a Birkin or any other accessory or clothing item that suggests that Daddy (or your sugar Daddy) buys you things. As I advised the young woman who wanted to carry her Birkin to her internship:  Even if you’re 100% committed to your career, the first impression you’re making is a negative one, and you may not get a chance to correct it personally with every person who notices.  So don’t do it.

Finally, this isn’t a fashion tip, but a more general one: Know your place. One of the weekend commenters mentioned going to a business meeting and being shocked that her opponent’s intern blocked the exit and talked loudly about her own general studies in the field — and I found myself nodding in agreement because I’ve seen that person (male and female) a million times and it never reads well. When you’re at a meeting with anyone outside your immediate company — e.g., clients, opponents — your role is to observe. Contributions are fine, but brevity and quality are the name of the game unless whoever you’re speaking with presses further.

This should be a fun discussion — readers, what advice do you wish you could give the interns at your workplace?  What gaffes have you seen?

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  1. My advice to summers would be something I heard when I was a junior lawyer – You don’t want anyone talking about you at work other than to say, “She does great work.” Act accordingly.

    My advice to those who have summers at their firms/companies would be to try to help them out. This is a first job for many and they just don’t know. The tips here are great, but what would be even more helpful would be to give these tips directly to your summers. I remember a junior associate told me when I was a summer that I forgot to unstitch the kick pleat on my skirt…Ha! Yeah right, I “forgot”. I still remember to this day how mortified I was, and thankful that she told me.

    • theirway11 :

      thanks for recommending that regular employees let interns know about their mistakes! You’d be surprised as to how little that has happened in my experience.

      What about comments about your body? I have a very large bust, and have done my best to minimize it and dress professionally (no cleavage, nothing tight) but I can’t deny that they’re there. I’m very concerned that this will hamper me in the future and prevent people from taking me seriously. What are your thoughts on this?

      • I have a larger bust and always do the husband check (“is this too much chest?”) and the mirror double-check (bend over, sideways). If I see “too much” or it feels a little uncomfortable, I change it (add a cami or change the outfit). I try to stay more conservative, but I still wear formfitting shirts, etc., I just make sure they aren’t over-the-top. I mean, they are there and there’s nothing you can do about that! I don’t think it hinders me at all.

      • I think it would be harder for someone to give advice on this, but I think if the top is work appropriate, fits correctly and doesn’t show cleavage, you are totally fine. I would be careful of gapping with respect to button down shirts.

    • I don’t think that’s actually true. I think you want people to say “She does great work, and…” but never “She does great work, but…”. At least at my office, “She does great work.” with no further info would be a euphemism for “She’s boring but competent. Doesn’t fit in to our office culture.”

      • I am talking in generalizations, and really am thinking about large law firms. I agree – e.g. fun place like silicon valley start up, advice would be different. As a summer at a firm though, I really think you don’t want people talking about you except for your work product…because generally, anything beyond that is probably gossip about something you said, did, wore, that was inappropriate. A consistent statement of a summer doing great work by each attorney who works with him or her should lead to a job offer. When I say great work, I mean great work…not someone using it as a euphemsism for competent work.

  2. Amelia Bedelia :

    two pieces of general advice:

    1. it has been said, but it is true: dress in the middle with respect to formality. You do NOT want to be the only person in a polo/shorts and you do NOT want to be the only one in a suit. My office is business casual, but a partner commented that one of our summer associates was “pushing the envelope” (a week in) by wearing a polo and khakis. We were in a firm-wide lunch and he was one of only two male associates wearing a polo. And the other associate was coming off an all-nighter (brief due) and still had on nice dress slacks with his polo. All of our male associates interpret “business casual” as dress shirt and slacks and sometimes a tie. yes, some of our partners wear polos, but you are not a partner! You do not want to be recognized for this clothing, summer. Unless you are in a creative department, your goal should be to blend, blend, blend when it comes to dress.

    2. We also had an associate meeting. the talk was given by the chairman of our firm. He had given a similar talk the summers’ first week (attended by summers and our juniour associates) and said at the beginning “this is a rehash that some of you may have heard, so don’t feel obligated to stay for the entire discussion” to the entire group of associates (around 50). Okay ONE regular associate left halfway through (and we all know she is swamped, so understandable) and then TWO of our summers apparently thought this was the green light and left early. Are you kidding me? You do not have more important things to do than sit and listen to the chairman. I do not care if you have heard the EXACT speech twelve times. Sit there and pretend to listen and care. No one else left (and most of our juniour associates had heard this exact speech 12 times!), and I am sure that the chairman noticed. Everyone of the associates noticed and talked about it later.

    • I totally agree with your second point. But this isn’t exclusive to summers – I’ve seen first year associates do the same thing (when summers aren’t around, so the first years are the most junior in the room). I cannot believe some people think there’s ever a reason to leave a discussion like this, where you know everyone is going to notice. Nothing you’re doing is that important as an intern/SA/first year associate. Seriously.

  3. theirway11 :

    As a long-term intern, I have some advice for superiors about how to make this a more harmonious for all of us.

    -If you see me making a gaffe, TELL ME. I am young. There are things I don’t know. Rest assured, if I do anything that bothers you, I am not doing it intentionally but because I don’t know any better. Tell me, please. I want to know, and I want to know soon. One summer, I was given a workspace and told it was my desk. At the end of the day, I would organize projects I hadn’t completed and leave them for the next day. Apparently this was not acceptable, and the desk needed to be cleaned off and wiped down at the end of the day every day. No one told me about this until my 8th week there, by which point I got yelled at by the boss (not my direct superior, but the department head). This sucked. It would have only taken 30 seconds to point this out on my first day.
    -I am an adult with a college degree. Please don’t ask me to clean your office.
    -One summer, I was unpaid and had to commute 2 hours in each direction to get to work. Please be mindful of that if you ask me to stay “late”–please give me a time estimate so I don’t miss the last train home. Especially if I am unpaid

    • theirway11 :

      oh, and, if you do ask me to clean your office, please be extra busy so you can’t do it yourself. I once cleaned a woman’s office while she was buying plane tickets/making hotel reservations for a trip to Mexico.

  4. Just curious, but how many people’s organizations here are providing interns with meaningful career experience as opposed to using their interns as free menial labor?

    There was a bit of a flap last year about big name organizations abusing the internship process to get unpaid menial labor to run photocopiers and get coffee rather than give the intern marketable experience.

    I’m not in law (or finance) so I’m curious how much the high prestige professions are still doing this.

    • theirway11 :

      as an intern, I have had a bit of both experiences. Some experiences have been wonderful and informative and fascinating, while others primarily involved stapling and (horrors) cleaning offices. This was at a law firm. I cried (privately, no one knew) daily.

    • Another Sarah :

      I’ve also had both experiences. Most of my internships have been very good experiences and I can say that, at the very least, I learned something. Yes, I can now operate almost any copy machine on the planet, even in another language, but I learned about the industry/position for which I interned. On the other hand, I’ve had an internship quite like the one described above (and you ladies helped me with it under another name a couple months ago) where I was essentially a free menial labor whipping post. This was for a solo practitioner.

      Although I did learn that when I get that feeling that you know it’s not going to last long before you even start, to just cut my losses. So I suppose it still served its purpose?

    • karenpadi :

      We really try to make internships educational and interesting. But the interns are also the cheapest available labor so unfortunately they can get stuck doing some boring tasks (think one level above getting coffee or photocopying) that are just time sinks.

      If I give an intern a time-sink task, I try to pair it with an interesting task.

    • Our interns (law, non-profit) get practical experience, including substantive writing and research, and are encouraged to attend panel discussions, congressional hearings, anything of the sort. Depending on the particular internship, it may include some administrative tasks, especially in light of the fact that we don’t have secretaries (administrative work is in the job description of any junior staff member). But in general, the work an intern does is just a notch below the work a junior attorney does, except that the intern is more heavily supervised while the junior attorney is expected to be able to produce most of her work without having a supervisor edit it.

      • Oh, and our interns are totally expected to make coffee for an important meeting, get water bottles for the meeting, make sure the meeting room is set up, arrange catering, etc. In the absence of an intern, this is the job of a junior staff member. In the absence of a junior staff member, I do this myself. So I don’t see a problem with having an intern do it.

        • Oh, are they? How obnoxious. It’s great you do it yourself in the absence of junior staff members, but both you and them get paid. Interns don’t. Don’t you feel like a jerk having unpaid workers do this crap, when the only payment they’re really getting – or should be getting – is acquiring new skills and education?

    • I’d be ok with some administrative work, but that has not been the experience at any of my three unpaid, legal internships, all in government. I’ve never once been asked to get someone coffee or make photocopies. I think part of the reason this works so well in the legal field is that there is so much research to be done. I currently work for two attorneys who have been doing their job (a small specialty in a larger office) for 10 and 20 years, but they have tons of things for me to research, because new problems come up all the time, and the law changes. Sometimes it’s just a question (real e.g.s- can someone be criminally charged with X under Y circumstances absent Z? under what circumstances will a court do A rather than B in a C proceeding?) that they are interested in but don’t have time to research because they are busy with deadlines.

      All my supervisors have always asked me for what I wanted to do or get out of my internships, and encouraged me to take time to watch any interesting trials or proceedings they heard about in court. I’ve often been asked on interviews what I was looking for (and I always answer honestly). They have also all been very helpful in providing references, career advice, etc. When I go to career fairs and networking events and mention that I’m interested in Z and I interned at X, people say, “Oh did you know Y? I worked with her at A! How did you like it?” and are more eager to talk to me that if I just say I’m interested in Z area.

  5. Anonymous :

    Don’t dress in costume as an “adult”.
    This is tempting and natural for young girls entering the adult world, but… try not to.
    The designers bag, too-too heels, body-con suits are symptoms of this. No playing dress-up, embodying childhood or magazine ideas of womanhood. Real life, real clothes, your (stylish, not modish) clothes are your armor. Your achievements should leave an impression, rather than your clothes. Emulate your female bosses, not TV bosses or Vogue ‘power issue’ icons. Those are not real models of successful womanhood. Find a real one, be a real one.

    • Seconded. Wear clothes that fit properly and, if you want to emulate a public figure’s style, emulate someone who has a similar profession. If you’re in law, business or government, look at people like Hillary Clinton, Katherine Sebelius, or Christine Lagarde. Don’t take your cues from an actor unless you are one.

    • I respectfully disagree. You should aim high before settling. If you want to be fashionable, emulate those that are fashionable. You can always use common sense and opt for the conservative version of that. Why emulate those who often let fashion and style take a back seat because they have other more important priorities? I’d like to emulate Hillary’s career, but not her fashion. I aim to look stylish and do good work – I do believe that’s possible. I’d rather not have a closet full of “armor.”

  6. I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, Kat, but I don’t love the “Daddy” or “Sugar Daddy” comment. Are we really at the point where people think the only way to get something pricey is through a man? Couldn’t it have at LEAST been her “Mommy” as an option, too?

    When I see someone younger with crazy expensive stuff, I just think that they mismanage their money–or have nothing in savings. Never occurred to me that they had a man buy them anything.

    • Anonymous :

      Kindly, but emphatically, let’s let that 50s idea go. I have never had that thought ever, only seen it in media– in retro media it’s cute (we’ve come a long way, baby), in 2011, it gets a ‘hunh?’ and a (gentle, Kat-loving) stink-eye.

      • Years ago when I was a summer there was a fellow female summer who technically had what would fall into kat’s sugar daddy category: she was southern, late 20s, married for several years to a fellow southern gentleman who did very well on wall street, they had a home on the UES a second home in the burbs, and a third home in the south. She carried very high-end handbags and had luxuries that other summers definitely didnt. all that said: she was the most capable, smart, hard-working, intelligent, and (most importantly) down-to-earth summer in our class. never for a second did her sugar daddy status or high-end bags interfere with my (or everyone else’s) opinion of her. of course, she never hid who she was and was pretty forthright about her husband buying her chanel and whatever else it was. but even then- it never really mattered (and still doesn’t, she still works with me).
        it’s really not what you carry or how you got it , but how you carry yourself (and it)

        • Anonymous :

          “It never really mattered”

          Exactly. So? I have never heard of this or thought this, but it doesn’t matter how many anecdotes erupt. So? Who’s side are we on? I honestly don’t think this is in people’s thoughts. They might judge you a twit, a spend-thrift, a play-acting little girl… but I Do Not think they are thinking you are a paid companion. Let’s just drop this kind of joke if it was one, and thinking, if we’re thinking it. It’s weirdly retro and dates the thinker. Yuck.

        • I get what you are saying, but I don’t like the “her husband bought her” part of it – most married people share finances, so the item in question was likely purchased with joint money, regardless of whether she bought it herself or be gave it to her for Christmas. The assumption that it is “his” money, even if that happens to be the case, is insulting, for lack of a better word.

          As a married law student, this is my pet peeve. I’m married, and while we are not wealthy, we can afford a reasonably comfortable lifestyle on my husband’s salary. Yet whenever I happen to have new clothes (from the J.Crew outlet, not Chanel), a school “friend” invariable has to saying something about me “borrowing husband’s credit card to go shopping.” I cringe every time.

          • He works, you don’t. He pays. You have to realize that and move on. One day you may work and he wont. And you then pay. But you have done nothing to earn the salary.

          • From my perspective, it’s not his or your credit card/income/whatever; it’s yours as a family, in a situation that you decided upon as a couple. I also cringe at the non-employed spouse “allowance” term from years back and that’s still in some use today. I know that some couples like my parents each have an allowance from their monthly financial plan but that’s for manageability. One spouse giving the other spouse an allowance or asking to use “their” credit card is a bit parent-child to me.

    • Thanks for bringing this up. I stumbled over it, too. I don’t have nice things (and I’m still not sure what a Birkin bag us), but if I’m going to walk around with something expensive, it’s because I bought it for myself. On a blog where recommendations can exceed $1000, I don’t think the Sugar Daddy comment was warranted. And if I had to wait for a man to buy me something nice, well, I would never have anything nice.

    • I felt this way when reading it too.

      There is a woman in my office who wears designer clothes, carries designer bags, etc. and she is in a low paid support position. When I see her, I think: “comes from money,” not “daddy” or “sugar daddy.”

      • Anonymous :

        Kat mentioned it because the stereotype exists. I took it as an FYI rather than a judgment.

      • Anonymous :

        “Comes from money” is not necessarily a message you want to be sending, either. I think the point is that you don’t want to dress in a way that screams “I don’t actually need this job.”

        • Oh, I fully agree with the point. I just think it would be nice if we could move past assuming outside wealth comes from men. I don’t, and I thought it was a bit odd. (Small point though. Kat’s post was still great!)

          • I’m not THAT old (mid 40s) but I can remember when I learned that my undergrad finance prof was married. My opinion of her quickly shifted from “very together career climber” to “Barbie who dresses well for/by hubby”. I have no idea how the financial and other responsibilities in their home were divvied up–for all I know she could’ve been supporting a SAHH or artist. Still, that is the impression that popped into my head.

    • Thank you – I agree with this. It does lead me to ask a question though – I am starting as an associate this fall at a biglaw firm, and am very lucky to have met the love of my life, who also happens to be an extremely successful businessman. Now that he and I are partnered up, yes I have access to nice things and a weekend/beach house, and yes he will buy me lovely jewelry or bags and shoes as gifts from time to time, but in no way has this changed my career path or professional goals. Just last night we had our first discussion about engagement rings (very excited) and I know he’ll want to get me a beautiful ring. Now, I’ve read the previous threads about engagement rings in the office, etc., but I do want to know – should I prepare myself for fellow associates/partners/colleagues to look at my boyfriend (and perhaps finace) as my SUGAR DADDY?! Are you kidding me? I would love him if he had nothing, and I hate to think I could be judged if people find out who he is, where we might go some weekends, etc.

      Question is – do you think I really have to be prepared for this? And if so, how do I handle it? Just never bring him up or never bring him around? Work extra hard to prove my commitment and seriousness about my career? Hmm.

      • I think it’s all in how you carry yourself. Don’t feel like you have to prove anything to anyone, if you’re sincere, that will show, no matter how expensive your clothing or accessories are. Just be your professional self, that’s all.

      • Right. And don’t make a point of talking about resources that you have that others don’t (second home, luxury cars, etc.).

        You see to be pretty modest about it – just be your genuine self and be conscious that if others know about your background or personal life, they may think of you in a different way.

      • Ballerina Girl :

        Sugar daddy and rich husband are different things in my opinion–the former is a man you’re with for the money, the latter is a man you’re with who happens to have money. I work in the non-profit sector and when I hear that a woman (or a man for that matter) lives in an expensive area, etc. I think that their spouse must be wealthy because I know that they can’t afford that on the salary they make where we are.

      • Christine :

        A lot of attorneys put a lot of stock in paying your dues. Some attorneys may look at people who are lucky enough to have nice things and think that person has had it too easy, hasn’t had to work for what they’ve got, and judge them accordingly. (I’ve been guilty of this myself.) Especially if it appears the person is showing off — LV and Tiffany logo items may not be your friends in this department. Just keep it discrete and you should be fine.

        I also don’t think you’ll have to worry too much about people judging you when they meet your boyfriend, as long as he’s similarly low key about it. Let people guess at how successful he really is. Do your job really well and nobody will care what he does for a living or how much money he makes at it.

        Congrats on finding your #1 man!

      • If you get a 2+ ct ring and are talking to a girl with a 3+ ct ring, don’t say that it’s good enough for now but you plan to upgrade it later. People next to you might roll their eyes. Just sayin’ :)

        Don’t volunteer information indicating money. Instead of “at our place in the Hamptons…” say “I was at the beach this weekend and..” and instead of “I snagged the last one at the Louis Vuitton in Paris, it was a limited edition ” say “I got it while traveling in Europe. I really enjoyed the Rodin museum. Have you been?”

      • Behave like “old money” would. i.e. treat the ring as an extension of your hand and don’t show off the ring to anyone. If anyone admires it, just say “Thank You”. No apologies, no explanations.

        Everyone spends their $$ on whatever means the most to them. e.g. I might carry a $100 bag to work but splurge on La Mer that no one sees though it’s on my face! You might wear a costly ring, but skimp on loads of things….so just enjoy your things and don’t make a big deal of it.

    • I understand and agree but Kat has a good point. A true story: Much longer ago than I’d like to admit, as a summer associate, I had an office mate we called “my husband the brain surgeon.” Everyone did because she managed to tell you that her husband was a neurosurgeon within a minute or two of meeting her. Honestly, I don’t remember her real name but I remember that. She was outfitted from Day 1 with 5 Paul Stuart suits, identical cuts, different fabrics, paid for by her Mom. It wasn’t hard to tell that she wasn’t serious about being a lawyer. In those days, everyone got an offer; she didn’t accept hers.

      Sugar Daddy was the wrong term but these things do matter. Whether you think so or not (just like bra straps), people notice.

      • I want a Paul Stuart suit so badly! Jealous.

      • The rich Sig-O thing can be tricky to navigate. A girl in my summer associate class was engaged to a doctor with an established practice, while my fiance was eating ramen noodles and working on his PhD dissertation back at our studio apartment. I remember feeling left out of the loop at firm social events when she and some of the more senior associates could discuss things like their country clubs and sample sales, and I was still living like a college student. She and I became friends though, and later, after we both received offers, she confided in me that she was worried because none of those senior associates ever talked to her about work, and one even joked that she didn’t really need the job.

        On the one hand, living the high life can help make you blend well into a firm’s corporate culture; on the other, it could make you seem like a less serious candidate. Obviously these are unfair generalizations, and everyone should be judged on their professional accomplishments, but hiring committees make them all the same.

    • I also would add that when I meet a wealthy person who still has a full-time job, I kind of admire them. If I didn’t have to work, I’d be at the beach. Working when you don’t have to means you must have a good work ethic.

    • Thanks, Batgirl. I went “what???” when I read that.

      Also, in places where people do save money, don’t run up wild CC debt, etc it is entirely possible for a 25 year old to buy a $1000+ designer bag (heck – they may have purchased it from a consignment store/ebay/whatever at a fraction of the retail price).

      Or parents might have gifted a hardworking child something like that upon graduation. Perhaps something handed down from someone dear. Whatever.

      So let’s stop judging. Admire from a distance (or not) & move on.

      And for those who will still judge – well, I’m sure they’d find something else to judge an intern (or anyone else) on, with or without the designer accessory….

  7. as a young attorney, the best advice i ever received from a mentor was to protect my reputation.

    your reputation encompasses everything about you – your work, the way you present yourself, how you communicate. you can be hard-working and put out great work product but only people who work with you will see that. when you’re out in the legal community (whether at summer associate functions or general bar association events), people can only evaluate you by your presentation and how you interact with them, so be extra careful regarding what you say, do, and wear. this becomes particularly difficult when you start making friends with colleagues and letting your guard down, but always remember that you should be in control of your reputation. make every effort to build a good reputation and it will serve you well for the rest of your career.

    thinking back, i am so grateful for my mentor because he allowed me to make all my mistakes and gaffes with him before i entered “the real world.” i appreciate him so much because he really made sure that i established a good reputation from the very start of my career.

  8. This may be a California thing , but, I had a summer intern once? Who prhased everything as if it were a question? And it was hard? You know? To really concentrate on what she was saying?

    I’m actually just laughing thinking about her. She was great. So I don’t really have a don’t there!

    The younger professsional guys in the office found her right away (she was cute, and they are good at that) and started taking her out for drinks all the time. After a while I felt like she knew more people than I did! At first I was a little worried, but she held her own and didn’t dress scandalously so I don’t think it hurt her reputation. But, imagine, if she had been a scantily clad type. Then EVERYONE would have been talking about her. So I guess I’m just backing up what the other posters have said about appropriate office dressing.

    • Oh god. This. This times a million.
      My firm makes us all go through media training once we hit a certain level and you’d be shocked at the number of fairly senior women (and men!) who do the up-talk thing. I find its more common in professions where you don’t interact with clients/public as often, but still, it makes you sound young (at best) or just like an idiot.

  9. lawtalkinggirl :

    I wish my office had an intern or two this summer. Then there would be someone here remotely close to my age. I work with great people but they are all old enough to be my parents (and I am over 30!!!).

  10. Something I don’t think anyone has mentioned: Keep in mind that your supervisors are very busy when you ask a question. We had one of our interns ask my very busy co-clerk what a reply brief is; first, he should know, but second, a quick Google search would have answered the question. And this wasn’t the first of these types of questions he’s asked. He asks all sorts of annoying word processing formatting questions to the clerks. And on that note, be aware that people who may just be a little older than you should still be treated like your superiors. If you wouldn’t ask the judge (or the partner) that question, chances are you shouldn’t ask me either. I’m more than happy to answer legal questions or even give career advice, of course. Just don’t bother me with word processing.

    • soulfusion :

      I have to disagree. Sometimes the hardest thing about being a summer/intern is figuring out who is the right person to ask and there is a fear of asking the dumb question and often this leads to bigger mistakes. If in doubt, approach someone and ask “who is the right person to ask about how to make copies” or “I should probably know this but what exactly is a reply brief?” Law school does not always teach the practical side and honestly, jargon changes from practice group to practice group and jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Be a good mentor and cut people some slack. If the question is “below” you, direct the kid to someone who can help…..

      • I think there are different ways to approach the question asking, and this may be what the original poster is mentioning. There are different ways to ask a question and one is far more effective than others.

        If a lower level/intern comes with a basic question that they should know the answer to, and phrases the question: ‘What is x’, in some cases, especially with some people, I’m going to assume they are unmotivated and lazy.

        If the same person had come to me and said “I would like to confirm the firm’s definiton of a ‘reply brief’. Here’s what I think it is, based on my knowledge and research…. [[provides definition]], how is that different than the way the firm perceives it'”, then I have a LOT more respect and willingness to help someone because he/she has taken the initiative to figure it out himself.

    • I completely disagree. How else are interns ever going to learn if they can’t ask questions, even dumb ones? I think interns should be encouraged to seek advice, ask questions, etc. from the more junior people at their office (and as a clerk who I assume is no more than 2 years out of law school, this means you). I understand that you’re busy, but you’ll be much busier later if the intern isn’t allowed to ask the question, screws up as a result, and then you have to fix or redo whatever went wrong.

    • Yes. I tell my interns that there are no stupid questions from interns. That’s what they are there for. The entire point of an internship is to learn. If I am not answering their questions, I may as well not have interns at all. They are not just free labor for us.

      • well.. it’s also about asking the right person and right time- ie not when they are too busy. don’t barge in, don’t assume they have time for you. ask if /when is a good time. people have way more going on that the interns, no offense. someone will hopefully help you, eventually, but if they are in the middle of closing a large international deal, being pestered will just be annoying.

  11. Ballerina Girl :

    Any recommendations for a lightweight black or grey blazer–a summer blazer, if you will? I’m looking for those cute blazers everyone’s wearing over dresses or cute tops for a night out or casual day at work–surprisingly hard to find!

    • What about this one? :


  12. I may get some flak for this, but it’s refreshing to see summer associates worried about coming off as professional enough. A few years ago (before jobs started disappearing) summer associates in Big Law walked around as if they owned the place and the firms should be lucky to have them. This attitude, more than anything else, showed a lack of professionalism and led to a lot of gaffes (i.e., drinking too much at cocktail parties, leaving during the middle of the day to get a manicure, fighting with junior associates or other summers, being snobby about how nice a restaurant for lunch was, etc.)

    One last comment — suits can be unprofessional if worn incorrectly. Your suit pants shouldn’t be tight enough for a visible camel toe or for me to tell that you’re *not* wearing underwear. If you button your jacket, the buttons shouldn’t look like they’re about to pop off.

  13. ElevenElle :

    After reading through all of this, I am incredibly bitter that I didn’t get a paid summer associate position last summer. I behave appropriately, just based on common complaints here, and I know I could have excelled. I guess it didn’t come across in the interviews though.

    Studying for the bar has made me so bitter. I have a 1 year clerkship starting in September but absolutely no idea what lies beyond that. Except the fact that I know I’ll have at least $1500/month in student loan payments. And yet I can’t help thinking that if I had gotten that summer associate position, I’d have a $120k/year salary after the clerkship. Just makes it hard to stay focused and determined while suffering through bar review when I’m wondering whether I’ll end up right back in that boring engineering job I had before law school.

    Wow, I think I’ll go have some cheese to go with that whine. And maybe even some real wine. I hope I’m not the only recent graduate feeling so depressed over studying for the bar with a very real concern that it could be for nothing.

    • Another Sarah :

      The way some seem, I think some (maybe most?) of the intern mistakes that people mention could be college-student interns, so you wouldn’t be competing with them anyway. :-) Don’t worry about sunk costs, just keep looking forward.

      At least that’s what I’m telling myself as I study for my not-first bar exam…

    • I missed out on a Biglaw SA position too. Almost all of my class did. I know how you feel because I was in the running -I got several callbacks- but there just weren’t enough places hiring. The money is the most annoying part; life would have been so much easier with a nice salary.

      It definitely disrupted my plan (work in Biglaw for a few years, get great experience, pay off loans, move on to more fulfilling work in the government or at a company). I’m going to be clerking in an area I’m not interested in at all, but at least I have a job and can put food (or at least ramen) on the table for the next two years, unlike most of my classmates who don’t have anything lined up.

      My advice: enjoy life outside of your career for a year. You have the opportunity to rewrite your plans and look at new options. You are resourceful, and you will be surprised where life will take you. You might just end up with that $120k job at some point.

      Also, income-based repayment.

    • Tell me about it. I had a summer associate position, but didn’t get an offer (nor did half of the other associates. They way, way overhired). I even had one partner I worked with tell me “yea, I don’t know what happened. If the economy wasn’t so bad, we definitely would have hired you.” But at least you have a clerkship, which should make it easier to get a job after you finish it. I’ve been bouncing around with temporary things for about a year. My bitterness is not helped by the fact I recently ran into someone I summered with who did get an offer who said apparently, the few summers they did hire are completely swamped with work. (could have hired a few more and not been as swamped…).

      But then again, one of my BigLaw friends was complaining about how much she hates her job because she’s basically doing mindnumbing work that requires no thought. I’m currently writing a part of a brief on a contract basis for someone. Sure, the pay is terrible, but at least I’m using my brain.

    • soulfusion :

      Summers have improved dramatically as the economy has dried up. The majority of them realize they are lucky to have the position they have and they work very hard to get offers. It is far more rare to see the gaffes that were prevavelnt in years past.
      Don’t worry about venting, this is a good space for it. But I will say, congratulations on the clerkship! Hopefully that will open doors for you down the road and as another commenter said, take this opportunity to enjoy the extra personal time that is denied you as a biglaw associate (easier said, than done). Best of luck with the bar studying, that is enough to make anyone whiny and grumpy – employed or not.

  14. Erica Foley :

    These are all great tips. I’ll add two more that I didn’t see:

    – Don’t use profanity. And don’t assume that it’s ok to do so if the senior people you’re working with do it. Sexist but true: that 50 year old man who swears like a sailor may consider it inappropriate for you to curse.

    – Your Internet usage is being monitored in the office, and they are looking at those reports.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to close the door and worry about whether I have a VPL showing. Oh DAMN! :)

  15. Here’s another one – not about attire, but still:

    Never question or second-guess a partner or a senior associate on a conference call, in a client meeting, or in front of opposing counsel. Ever. Seriously. You may be the smartest intern on the block, but it is still not going to get you any points. Your job is to make the partner look like a star. If you have a question about why your superior came to a particular conclusion or gave certain advice, save it till later.

    I can’t believe I even feel the need to mention this, but I’ve seen it happen. I was once on a conference call with a client, a very senior partner, and a junior associate, going over transaction points. The junior associate questioned the partner’s recommendation on a particular point. We were all appalled, including the client, but everyone was too polite to say anything. However, trust me, it did nothing for the associate’s reputation. You are a junior. You are there to learn. You do not have 20 years of deal experience. Suck it up.

    • Anonymous :

      Agreed. But I think it’s ok to raise questions/ issues/ concerns after a meeting in a discrete way. After all, part of being an intern or summer associate is to learn.

      • Yes, see my point above re after the meeting. It is all about the learning.

    • Anonymous :

      Agreed. For all you know, they may be doing it on purpose.

  16. Anonymous :

    I summered at a BigLaw firm in NYC and now work as an attorney at a small public interest firm in DC, and the best advice is what you’ve already said: Know your workplace.

    I have to say that I was rather impressed by our summer clerk who emailed me (as the junior attorney who hired her) to ask what “casual attire” in our memo to summer clerks really meant. In our case, it really does mean shorts, sandals, and flip-flops are OK, but this gave me a chance to reiterate that before she showed up, plus add some advice about selecting casual clothes that are appropriate for our office (hint: nothing you’d wear going out dancing with your friends). Even here, I’ve seen inappropriate clerk attire — specifically skirts that are too short and dresses or tops that are too low-cut. We’re casual, but it’s an office!

    Also, no matter where you work, I think it’s important to have quick access to a suit or at least a nice blazer and trousers/ skirt if there’s any chance you’ll have an opportunity to meet clients, sit in on a deposition, or go to court.

  17. Anonymous :

    Know your office goes for makeup too, both whether to wear it and how much.

  18. Texas Lawyer :

    Kat’s comment on carrying a Birkin got me thinking. What about wearing a Rolex to an interview? I’m in Texas and hoping to hit the interview scene for a senior in-house position very soon. I have a lovely gold womens Rolex (presidential) that I received as a gift from my awesome husband. Is it too much to show up to an interview wearing such an expensive watch?

    • As a practicing attorney or seasoned professional (you note it’s a senior position), I see nothing wrong with wearing your watch. As someone applying for a more senior position, it’s assumed that you’ve worked hard, done well, and probably treated yourself to something along the line (be it a bag, watch, car, etc.).

      Not to mention the fact that almost no one will get close enough to you to scrutinize your watch in interviews. If someone recognizes your Rolex when they shake your hand or something, they only would because of their familiarity with the brand and styling.

    • I wouldn’t worry about it.

      L’Affaire Birkin Bag was a total sh!tstorm of different opinions, and any subsequent discussion here about luxury goods usually reopens the wound.

    • I wouldn’t recognize a Rolex if it jumped off your wrist and hit me in the face. No one’s looking at your watch unless it’s wildly tacky or something – wear what you like.

      • Anonymous :

        It matters more for males, I think. Same with pens and cuff links. Alpha male markers.

  19. [email protected] :

    I work in IT at a large law firm… Our summers just started this week.


    Be nice to IT, secretaries, file clerks, everyone. A lot of people have been here a lot longer than you have and, even though we are staff, we do have some say in whether you get that offer at the end of the summer. That woman might “just be the receptionist” but she’s also worked at the firm for 35 years and is very close with a lot of influential people.

  20. Corporette, not Ranchette :

    Wardrobe advice really needed. How do you dress for the summer associate events that involve, say, horseback riding (100+ degrees in the shade), or a water activity in which you are expected to get in a pool, lake, with co-workers and future co-workers of all ranks (and often, their families)? For the latter, I know what I’m supposed to wear but am just not willing to put my post-baby severely-out-of-shape self into even the most conservative swimwear in front of coworkers. For the former, I don’t know what to wear. Jeans seem the most appropriate. I’ve no idea what kind of shirt to wear. And I’m pretty sure I’m not going to smell all that great after a 100+ degree one-hour horse ride, yet we still have to ’roundup at the corral’ when it is over, with no time to clean up. Whoever plans these themed events should be tortured.

    • I’ve been horse riding once in my life (for an hour) and the advice I’d give to you is “breathable”. You will sweat and feel grimy and completely not put together. A breathable cotton top – t-shirt or blouse with neat (but not your best) jeans. Wear shoes that completely cover your feet. Put your hair in a ponytail beforehand (no pun intended).

      For the pool/water activities, I’d suggest a tank or other form-fitting tee with shorts/capris and sandals, with a brightly colored cover-up/kurta/sarong on top. It gives that breezy look while still covering up.

    • For the former, you’re in luck b/c I grew up on a horse ranch in Nevada. Definitely, definitely wear jeans. If you’re going on a trail ride you’ll be riding in a western saddle and any fabric besides denim will not provide enough protection from it. You do not want to chafe and bruise. Wear full-length jeans, not capris. Make sure you can move in the jeans – mounting a horse entails putting your foot up in the stirrup, which may be as much as 3 feet off the ground, and pulling yourself up. Tight jeans will rip at the seam. Wear substantial sneakers that will protect your feet and won’t slip in the stirrups (assuming you don’t have cowboy boots or functional work boots like Doc Martens – if so those would be great). I have weird feet and hate wearing cowboy boots so I always ride in sneakers, to the mockery of my family, but they work fine. On top, whatever you want is fine – a t-shirt or polo shirt is fine. Wear a hat that will stay on your head in a stiff breeze.

      For the latter, wear a swimsuit with a cute coverup and floppy hat, and park yourself in a lounge chair. Just because it’s a pool party doesn’t mean you have to go in the water. No one will coerce you – I guarantee you there will be several other women there who don’t want to get in either.

  21. I like clothes and I work in a professional environment, but reading through these comments, my main reaction is: how somebody’s underwear fits is really not that big of a deal. Let’s try to keep an open mind about what makes a person valuable.

  22. Here are five thoughts from a rainmaking litigation partner at a Biglaw firm who has both dated and hired a share of summer clerks:

    1. Most of the male partners (including myself) jokingly refer to the female summer associates as “the menu.” If a successful partner starts to take a unique interest in you, politely redirect all conversation to work.

    2. Never, ever “go out for drinks” one-on-one with a male partner who wants to “hear more about your thoughts on the summer program.” Guess what: he doesn’t care about your thoughts on the summer program.

    3. There is typically an inverse corrolation between the female summer associates that I want to date and the ones I want to hire. The qualities in the ones I want to hire are: hard-working, thorough, intuitive, and detail-oriented. The qualities in the ones I want to date are: flirtatious, spontaneous, and fun. Know which category you want to find yourself in and act accordingly.

    4. The recruiting coordinator has far more say in your success than does a senior partner. In fact, many firms take it as a very negative sign when a successful partner takes a unique interest in an attractive summer clerk, as it usually leads to very foreseeable problems down the road.

    5. Be friendly with the other female summer clerks. One of the telltale signs of a potential problem is a clerk who does not get along with the other clerks or who is catty.

    • I need to take a shower now. I don’t care how much rain you make, it is disrespectful to treat women this way.

    • Wow. WOW.

      I’m speechless. The only word that comes to mind is “douchebag.”

      But thanks for that horrifying glimpse into your brain, and for the reminder of what professional women are still up against.

    • Anonymous :

      I love this post. There’s some great advice and insight here and it’s meant in a helpful way. Sincere thanks for posting it (I work in an EXTREMELY male-dominated field and have thrived, if I may brag).

      • Oh, I think it was extremely helpful, too — a good reminder that the world is full of ill-intentioned, selfish people. But the sentiment expressed was, nonetheless, vile.

        • Bex, you should take yourself a bit less seriously. I venture to guess that anyone who was seriously interested in this topic learned a great deal more from my post than from your’s. And “vile” — really? Hitler was Vile. Saddam Hussein was vile. My comments were, at most, indelicate. But don’t worry — I’m 99% certain you would fall into a third category of summer associates — people I would neither date nor hire.

          • Oh, the hilarity! My friend, I’m not disappointed for one second that you don’t want to sleep with me. [I hope you’re trolling (and I’m pretty sure you are, because why would you be on a women’s fashion blog?), because if you’re real, that last comment is too sad! Am I supposed to me rending my garments or something?]
            Yes, vile: highly offensive, unpleasant, or objectionable. That’s what I think sexism is (along with racism, homophobia, etc.). I take those things seriously, not myself.

          • Try “yours” instead of “your’s.” All that rain must have washed away some brain cells.

            Sexism IS vile.

    • None of this is news to those of us who weren’t born yesterday (or after 1985, anyway), but thanks for the comment – I think a lot of young women really don’t get what goes through older men’s heads and this kind of blatant remark should give them some insight (see, e.g., Bex and mo’s reactions).

      • I really don’t mean to harp on this, but just because something “isn’t news” doesn’t mean it’s right (it’s f**king NOT), and it doesn’t mean that we should let this douchery go unchecked when it’s expressed as if it’s no big deal (it IS).

        You’re right, though: I was born in 1985, heh.

        • Anonymous :

          I truly wish you good luck on your quest.

          FWIW I believe it’s important to understand how your coworkers think and react, rather than just making the work experience all about you and how you feel and what you think things should be like.

          • I think it’s fine to put your foot down and say you are not going to cater to the whims of people like that. If my personality doesn’t fit in with the firm because I don’t want to deal with sexist pigs (trust me I’ve worked at those places before), then it’s my prerogative to do so. The reality is that along as women accept it and go along with it (instead of protesting or refusing to work at places like that), the behaviors will continue.

        • I agree that it’s douchery (and that’s my new favorite word). But I’m old now and I have accepted that it is going to go on, so we need to learn to work with it. Now that I’m a senior manager, if I caught my male colleagues talking about which interns they want to bag, I’d tear them a new one. But I also want our interns to be aware that men like this not only exist but are ubiquitous.

    • Yup, that’s a pretty clear window into the minds of *some* of the male lawyers at firms. And frankly, it’s good to know that people think this way. I learned it the hard way and got myself into two really dicey situations with male superiors involving me and older male lawyers, plus alcohol, alone at a bar. I was too naive to realize that when a male coworker is effusively, drunkenly, telling you what a good lawyer you are, and you are alone with him, you’re probably about five minutes away from him trying to take you home. And yes, this happened to me twice. The first time taught me to avoid the guys who were known womanizers. The second time taught me even to avoid that specific situation with people I would otherwise trust.

      One word of correction though. I still think you can be spontaneous and fun and be taken seriously. You just need to avoid being in situations where someone can get the wrong idea. Like the above.

      Agree mostly with #4 and #5, though I think #4 depends on the partner.

  23. I could make a list of 10 things, but they all boil down to this: pay attention to your supervisors, and to office culture, and act accordingly. When in doubt, ask your supervisor or mentor how to proceed. I’d rather have an intern come to me and say, “What should I wear to the bbq at the managing partner’s house tonight?” than have her show up in something inappropriate. Or, better yet, I’d rather hear, “My school told me to use this internship to network as much as possible. Is it OK to introduce myself to all the court staff and opposing counsel when I attend a hearing with you?” so I can say, “No, please don’t do that, I’ll make the appropriate introductions for you” before you start doing it.

    Also, don’t raise your hand in court. It is not school.

    • Mo, as much as I dislike your reference to me as a “douchebag”, your comments above are pretty solid. One exception: in many courtrooms — particularly in state court rooms in law and motion in complex cases where the well is filled with lawyers — it is expected that attorneys raise their hand when they want to be recognized.

  24. I have a question. I am a law clerk at a small firm. I’ve been here for 3 months. We have “casual Fridays,” and I have yet to take advantage because I see my job as an extended job interview. Some of the attorneys wear jeans on Fridays and some do not. Should I keep dressing up, or is it OK to wear jeans on Fridays?

    • It’s probably ok to wear nicer jeans with a business-style top. You don’t say what the dress code is the rest of the time… if it’s business casual, then it’s probably ok to wear trouser-style dark jeans (no skinny jeans, nothing too tight, nothing ripped) and a button-down and a cardigan and still nice jewelery.

      But if I were you, I would only switch to nice chinos or something instead of full jeans. “Casual Friday” doesn’t mean jeans-only. It means that if you normally wear a full suit, you could wear a button-down with a cardi and slacks instead. If you’re normally biz casual, don’t feel like you need to do jeans.

      (And still remember not to wear flip-flops and beachy-wear, no matter how casual everyone else gets.)

    • I would wear trouser jeans or a nice denim skirt (dark wash only) on Fridays with a dressier blouse and dressy pumps or sandals. You can also top the look with a blazer to make it look more business-like. You can wear skinny jeans also, but make sure that your top is long enough and not too tight to balance the look out. With skinny jeans, I’d definitely wear a blazer and flats. This way, you look casual but still smartly dressed. The key is to keep the look business like and not look like a going-out type outfit.

  25. Have a professional, clear, and concise voicemail message on both your work phone(s) and personal phones.

    My judge almost didn’t hire a very qualified intern because his voicemail was basically “uggghhhhhhhhh, I’m not here. Message me. Click.” Which did not go over well.

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