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Q: I’m going to be joining a large law firm this fall and would like advice on handling my image. Specifically, I look very young for my age. How can I best look credible to my fellow lawyers and, more importantly, my clients? Any tips regarding clothing, demeanor or anything else? A: First of all, you cannot do much about the basic fact that you’re young and just starting out. The only thing that will change that is the passage of time. Remember that your older colleagues will, to some extent, understand your situation — and if they don’t, they certainly should. Youth is youth, with all its charms and defects. The great thing about having young recruits is they bring fresh air into an office, they can often identify new ways of doing things and they inject new ideas and energy into the atmosphere. Everybody’s been young once and knows the pitfalls. It is true that being taken seriously by clients often can be adversely affected by an overly youthful appearance. Many people have complained to me that clients and other people they encounter in practice (including judges) will comment on how young they look, even asking their age. One judge asked a female lawyer, who was sitting in chambers representing a client, whether she was still in high school. Unbelievable, but true. So your concern is not an idle one. Regardless of whether you’re dealing with clients or colleagues, there are a few points to keep in mind as a youthful-looking practitioner. Often, people who look very young tend to overcompensate. They are more aggressive than is necessary, they act overly pompous or they are arrogant, irritating people with know-it-all attitudes right from the start. Try to avoid coming on too strong as you begin practice. Sometimes people overcompensate by dressing in a way that is overly formal or severe. Whether you are a man or woman, remember that including some personality in your dress is a sign of confidence, not inexperience or audacity. So wearing a striking tie or shirt, a colorful scarf or antique jewelry, is a mark of one’s individuality. Very trendy wear or overly casual garb would probably not work in your favor if you’re combating a “too young” appearance. Dressing down automatically makes people look younger, so be careful if your firm has casual Fridays; you will cement in people’s minds an impression of looking overly young if you don’t choose your casual wardrobe with care. Often, newbies are so focused on proving their professional abilities that they neglect interpersonal skills, which are critically important. Remember that a major objective in relating to clients is to make them feel comfortable and at ease. Your clients want to trust you and you need to build that trust. Experienced lawyers are marked by a natural manner, while less experienced lawyers sometimes are afraid to show their personalities and feel insecure joking around and being relaxed. A confident person isn’t afraid to show his true personality. Some younger practitioners openly express a lack of confidence. They say things like, “Gee, I just don’t know what to do” or “I’ll never make it here.” Also, they might indulge in too much public hand wringing and confide in others that they are scared or intimidated. Correctly or not, many colleagues will write these people off. So be careful about fretting too openly. Make low-key efforts to seek out help, and remember that everyone has had to start out and learn their way around. It can be done, and you will do it, too. The most important thing is to keep your eyes open and learn, learn, learn. Watch more experienced lawyers as they interact with clients and colleagues to learn the most effective ways to get things done. The author, a former litigator, is principal consultant with Values At Work in Montclair, N.J. Her advice column appears regularly in the Law Journal . Send your questions about law firm politics and law office management to [email protected]

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