Where reputation reigns, you are what others think you are. In the legal profession perception is everything. Attorneys must exude trustworthiness and competency to win clients’ hearts and colleagues’ respect. So in addition to producing quality work, they must tuck in their button-down shirts and shave their grizzly faces. The silicon-valley programmer’s dress code simply doesn’t fly. But while I would love to go to work in shorts, I get why I can’t.
If my doctor walked into the room looking like Spicoli, I’d rethink sprawling out on the operating table.
There’s a life lesson tucked in there, and it has to do with the power of perception. The message we convey to others through our externalities is a powerful one indeed. After all, it is the suit that makes the man. Perhaps this is unfortunate, but when information is limited we must process everything we can to make the best decision possible. So when choosing a lawyer, doctor, accountant or the like, details matter.
With that in mind, it was inevitable that I was going to shave my goatee before my first day at a law firm, as much as I wanted to fight it. Sure, some people look professional with neatly trimmed facial har, but me, well, I just looked like a hip, young vagrant. Regardless, the whole process got me thinking about the attorney I wanted to be.
Was I to trim my personality along with my facial hair?
Having but one day under my belt, I am committed to answering the preceding in the negative. To some, the answer may be stupidly obvious, but I think it will be important for me to remind myself not to check who I am at the door. Law firms tend to be fairly conservative environments, and with other jobs in the past I’ve found it natural to be one person at work and another with my friends. Probably a good idea during my more immature days, but I feel like I grow more into myself everyday, and it’s a self I don’t want to split between work and non-work. I want congruence.
This is an important lesson for all of us who are entering adulthood and the workforce. It’s okay to be one person through and through. I think we can find much more happiness at work if we don’t feel like we are acting or curtailing who we are. You can always tell whether someone is comfortable in their skin or not, or whether the skin they are wearing simply isn’t theirs. My favorite professors and co-workers have been the ones who knew they did their job well, and didn’t worry about letting their batty selves out.
Quirky is fine, just ease it into the office.
So as I continue to learn and get better at the work I’ll do, my goal is to approach personal congruence. And when I do, you can call me the Vanagon lawyer. I like things that have character, I like things that are simple, and I dig a quirky style. Hence, my love of the Volkswagen Vanagon. This is the lawyer I want to be. Like my van, I’m 25 years old, bad on gas, rusty in spots, and a bit slow to start. But me and my van, we’re full of charm and just happy to be running.