Goodbye job applications, hello dream career
Seize control of your career and design the future you deserve with LW career

Styling for lawyers in a hybrid working world

The days of suits, ties and heels as the expectation for a “nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday” existence is gone, as is the time of “cosplaying as Harvey Specter”. But that doesn’t mean that what lawyers wear is any less important in a competitive market.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 09 June 2023 Careers
expand image

Lawyers’ fashion has been evolving since the onset of COVID-19. Back in late 2021, Lawyers Weekly ran a poll on its LinkedIn page, asking if the era of suits and ties was over, with more than half of respondents voting “yes”.

There have, undoubtedly, been evolutions in the ways that lawyers dress, but with lockdowns now a thing of the past, sweatpants and hoodies for work are no longer in vogue, what with staff returning to offices. This means that how lawyers present — or, as one stylist puts it, their “visual voice” — remains fundamentally important.

As Carlysle Kingswood Global director (in-house, legal and governance) Phillip Hunter notes, the post-pandemic legal services marketplace has “significantly altered” our work environments.


Yet, he adds, even in this era of hybrid working, styling remains a key part of personal branding.

“Being well-presented communicates respect for your role, colleagues, and clients, whether you’re in the office or on a video call. It suggests you’re serious about your work and your professional image,” he proclaims.

“Furthermore, scattered workforces mean that we often only see colleagues during video meetings, making these instances important opportunities for professional expression. In essence, the medium has changed but the message — that you are a committed, respectful professional — remains as important as ever.”

While the nature of work has changed in the post-pandemic world, senior-finance-professional-turned-stylist Roopa Gulati details, the critical role of styling has not.

“It remains a powerful tool for communication, personal branding, and maintaining a strong professional presence, whether in person or online. In the post-pandemic market, the importance of styling has not only remained crucial, rather it has evolved and grown,” she says.

“Even though physical interactions have decreased, the need to project a professional and authentic personal image has not. Our style communicates our values, abilities, and brand identity, whether we are in a face-to-face meeting or on a video conference call.”

What styling means for lawyers

For award-winning barrister-turned-senior-in-house-counsel Matthew Littlejohn, styling means authenticity.

It means, he tells Lawyers Weekly, “being able to authentically express yourself means that your clients, managers, and peers are able to get to know you better, which, in turn, builds relationships, trust and confidence in your work”.

“The legal profession is one of people, connections, networks, and relationships, and to effectively develop these requires self-awareness and the comfort to be your authentic self,” he says.

“Successful or optimal professional style is authentic comfort in your own skin — nothing else ever fits as well.”

Optimal styling in the modern professional services marketplace, Mr Hunter says in support, is a balance between comfort and professionalism. But it is more nuanced than that, he notes.

“For example, if a lawyer has a meeting with a high-profile client, it might be appropriate to choose a more traditional corporate outfit, signalling respect and seriousness. However, if the day involves a team brainstorming session or working from home, smart casual wear might be more appropriate,” he says.

“It’s about understanding the context and making sensible choices accordingly. Remember, styling doesn’t just communicate your personal brand, it also sets the tone for interactions, possibly impacting the outcome of meetings or negotiations.”

Gessica Marmotta is a personal stylist who counts numerous lawyers among her clients. She says: “Your ‘visual voice’ — your style — is an integral part of your professional branding. When you are presenting yourself respectfully, this silently confirms to your clients that you know what you’re doing, you are consistent, dedicated and making the effort for them.”

“At the same time, it’s important to inject a personal touch to your style that gives a feeling of warmth and trust — the human side. One of the most important, undervalued and often overlooked personal development tools is your personal style — for everyone. It’s your visual voice, which could fall into three areas — physical, mental, emotional,” she opines.

“It’s all about creating an alignment between your attitude and your attire. Once you create an alignment, then you achieve this authenticity, and you’re not doing it for some other extraneous circumstance; instead, you’re in touch with yourself and choosing things based on how you feel and what suits you. This, in turn, creates self-confidence and helps with increased productivity, better decision making and alertness.”

Personal motivations

As Mr Littlejohn points out, legal practice has, at its heart, people.

In light of this, personal style is a key part of being comfortable in the workplace and being able to bring your whole self to work, he says.

“While high-quality legal advice or product is always important, that doesn’t and can’t occur without people who feel comfortable and capable of being themselves, and feeling able to dress/style yourself in the way that best expresses yourself is an integral part of that,” he submits.

As a recruitment expert, Mr Hunter explains that he has observed how first impressions can influence the hiring process.

“The way candidates present themselves provides insight into their professionalism, attention to detail, and understanding of workplace norms. This topic resonates with me personally because I believe that everyone deserves a chance to showcase their abilities and potential,” he outlines.

“When candidates understand the role of styling in their professional image, they are better equipped to make a strong first impression, improving their prospects in competitive job markets. This is not about endorsing superficial judgement, but rather about promoting self-awareness and personal branding.”

The need to evolve one’s style post-pandemic

To put their best foot forward in the new normal, Mr Hunter reflects, lawyers should remain adaptable.

“It’s about understanding your environment and adjusting your styling to match. For instance, if your firm has shifted towards a more relaxed dress code, going too corporate might indicate you’re out of touch with the company culture,” he says.

“But remember, it’s better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed. The key is to find that sweet spot that aligns with your company’s culture while allowing you to express your personal style.”

“Also, staying updated on the company’s dress code policy is critical. Policies may change, particularly as we navigate the post-pandemic world, so being aware of these changes ensures you remain in line with expectations.”

Mr Littlejohn describes himself as a fervent advocate of the idea that the post-pandemic world has ended the traditional corporate style.

“After spending years looking at our colleagues, clients, and the court through screens from our homes, the notion that legal practice only works in collars and ties has to be dead and buried. The guiding principle or starting point now, surely, has to be ‘dress for your day’,” he argues.

“When we returned to the office, I made it a point to abolish our team’s dress code — the result has been a remarkable positive.”

“When people are in court, there’s still suits and ties, but otherwise? T-shirts, shorts, sneakers, baseball caps, visible tattoos, whatever people are comfortable in — the work still gets done, and the team culture is so much better since we can all just be ourselves, instead of spending time and mental effort cosplaying as Harvey Specter.”

Practical tips

Ms Marmotta’s lawyer clients, she says, often marvel at how dressing up each day for work improves their productivity and mood.

“They even notice better posture when wearing outfits that make them feel confident. There is science to back this, called ‘Enclothed Cognition’.”

“So, how does one achieve this with flexible working conditions where a blend of WFH and office attire is required, without spending a fortune on two types of wardrobes and without compromising on your style? With my clients, I suggest they dress a little bit more formally than you would at home normally when they WFH. And if in the office a few days a week, think more along the lines of how to elevate your WFH attire to suit the office,” she submits.

There are numerous effective ways to do this, she lists, including decluttering and editing one’s wardrobe, investing in versatile pieces that can easily be interchangeable, worn in various ways from formal to more relaxed, including layering, better utilising accessories, and introducing more colour in the way of accessories or a clothing item.

Furthermore, Ms Marmotta goes on, when working from home, dressing each morning into clothing associated with work gives you a sense of being in serious work mode.

“You feel physically different, and the clothes feel different, so that tells your body, which also tells your mind, that this is work time. It tells your brain something new is about to happen and helps you shift gears,” she stresses.

“And then, at the end of a work day, you can change into relaxed clothes, and it says, ‘I can relax now. I can shift gears. I don’t have to be operating at this high-cognitive level’.”

Ms Gulati also suggests ways that lawyers can adapt their approach to align with the changing dynamics of professional interactions, adapting one’s wardrobe for the virtual world and maintaining a consistent brand image.

“While the screen limits what others see, it doesn’t diminish the importance of a professional appearance. Dress appropriately for video calls, focusing on the visible upper body. Choose colours and patterns that look good on camera and represent your professional persona,” she says.

“Your style should align with your professional brand. Even if you’re working remotely, the way you present yourself should be consistent with your values, skills, and the image of the law firm you represent.”

Elsewhere, lawyers should pay attention to their background set-ups for virtual meetings and adhere to digital etiquette by being on time for calls.

“By being mindful of these aspects, lawyers can continue to make a strong professional impression, build trust with their clients, and excel in their practice, even in the new normal,” Ms Gulati surmises.

Further guidance

More than anything, Mr Littlejohn advises, lawyers must understand their own personal style.

“What makes you look good and makes you feel comfortable and confident? Wear that. The best way to be remembered, whether it’s by a client, a hiring manager, or your boss, is to be entirely comfortable in your own skin and bring your personality into your work.”

Personally, both my arms are covered in tattoos, as well as my chest (with the ink visible in an unbuttoned collar). I often make a point of wearing a T-shirt or having my sleeves rolled up when I meet clients or executives, especially when meeting for the first time,” he details.

“I’ve never once had a negative response. Usually, it’s the opposite — it creates a brilliant conversation point, which enhances the connection, or is a relatable topic when clients have their own ink!”

Moreover, Mr Hunter adds, one must remember that personal branding extends beyond attire.

“It encompasses how you communicate, your work ethics, your values, and your interactions with colleagues and clients. In other words, the quality of your work and your character are vital. Your attire could help open doors, but it’s your professional prowess and conduct that will keep them open,” he espouses.

“As lawyers navigate this new era, their focus should be on consistently demonstrating professionalism, delivering high-quality work, and building a robust personal brand. The right balance of these elements, coupled with appropriate styling, will likely drive success in the modern professional services marketplace.”

This aligns with Ms Gulati’s perspective that successful styling is a holistic process that goes beyond choosing the right clothes.

“It’s about aligning personal identity and professional reputation with aesthetic presentation. It involves curating a look that not only appeals visually but also aligns with one’s values and brand identity,” she outlines.

“My experience in the corporate sector has taught me the subtleties of professional styling and its power to enhance self-confidence, personal brand, and, ultimately, professional performance. Ultimately, successful styling is a strategic tool for personal and professional empowerment, aiding individuals to convey their unique value through their style.”


As we journey into the third year since the advent of COVID-19, Ms Gulati muses, the transition from leisure wear to professional attire is in full swing, with the adoption of hybrid working models necessitating a refreshed look at wardrobe updates and post-pandemic styling that aligns with a more office-appropriate dress code.

“2023 has unveiled intriguing fashion trends across Australia, characterised by a notable shift towards a more relaxed professional wardrobe. Over half of working women in Australia have traded traditional suits and heels for more casual attire,” she says.

“This pivot in style presents a unique opportunity for organisations to acknowledge and support this mindset change amongst their female employees, and to proactively assist them in navigating the forthcoming changes in professional dressing norms. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial for companies to embrace and endorse this evolution in workplace fashion.”

For individuals, Ms Marmotta notes, it all comes down to asking three primary questions of oneself each morning: “One, how you feel right now; two, how you want to feel; and three, what you need to achieve today?”

Answering these, she says, helps you pick the right outfits for a successful day.

“As [former lawyer and MP] Julie Bishop once said: ‘When you wear the right clothes, you feel you can take on the world’,” Ms Marmotta concludes.