It is essential to be professional if you want to be successful, but what does “being a professional” mean? It could mean dressing the part at work, or it could mean performing well at your job. It could also mean attaining professional degrees or other certifications. Professionalism includes all of these things and even more.
At Nebraska Law we think Professionalism is important enough that it has been incorporated into the first-year curriculum through Foundational Legal Skills: Research, Writing and Professionalism. Starting in the fall of 2012, with the class of 2015, all first-year students will be introduced to different facets of professionalism in a series of lectures that will challenge them to consider how they personally define professionalism.
The information shared on the tabs below represents only a few of the aspects of professionalism - those that often show up on our frequently asked questions list. The information is by no means comprehensive which is why the CSO Office is open to and welcomes your questions. Feel free to stop in or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an appointment.
For another take on the fundamental values of the legal profession, check out this document outlining the results of an American Bar Association Task Force on the topic. [ABA Task Force Document]
- Social Media
- Professional Attire
- Professional Correspondence
Networking often gets a bad rap by those who characterize it as limited to awkward conversations at wine and cheese parties or using people to get what you want. That is unfortunate. In essence, networking is simply building and maintaining relationships. Optimally, the relationships are mutually beneficial, and although some choose to differentiate between personal and professional networking, both are important for professional success.
The CSO works to assist you with networking by providing opportunities to develop new professional friendships & associations with our alumni and members of the bar. However, don’t ever underestimate the importance of the relationships you form with your classmates and others in the community. These informal networks and the impression you make on those around you will hopefully be the source of many referrals for the rest of your professional career. Think about the networking efforts you make as developing a people resource bank that pays interest and dividends on your investment as long as you keep the account open.
There are many networking opportunities available to you at the law college over the academic year. The CSO invites many practicing attorneys to the law college for programming over the year to sit on panels or make presentations on their areas of expertise. In addition, your professors will invite guest lecturers, and there will be Continuing Legal Education (CLE) seminars that draw hundreds of alumni to the auditorium. All these opportunities are available to help you to make connections.
Networking opportunities abound outside the law college as well. Consider attending all or part of the Nebraska State Bar Association Annual Meeting. What about joining a Young Professionals Group or an affinity bar association like the Midlands Bar or the Nebraska Women’s Bar Association? Simply being active in the community with a non-profit organization of your choice can lead to many exciting opportunities.
Social Media is a huge part of our world today and it is one of the most common networking forums around. It is imperative that you maintain your professionalism not just in face-to-face communications but online as well. LinkedIn, Twitter and even Facebook are great ways to make connections, market your skills and even search for employment but you need to be conscious of how you are presenting yourself.
We host programs each year on Networking and How to Create Your Own Personal Brand. I encourage you to attend but also know that there are many resources to assist you if you are ready to move forward on increasing your skill level with using social media to build your professional presence.
The “Big 3” refers to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. The entire book is devoted to helping you make the most of your use of social media as a law student to help find employment both in school and post-graduation.
Nonverbal elements play an important role in the interview process and in all professional interactions. Handshakes, eye contact, posture, dress are important considerations. People make assumptions about your professional credibility and potential performance based upon your appearance. It's very difficult to overcome a poor first impression. Below are some reminders about interview attire as well as that elusive “Business Casual.”
This is a loosely defined term. Generally, business casual is considered to be somewhere between formal business attire, such as suits and neckties, and casual attire, such as jeans and a t-shirt.
For men, business casual can encompass several things including khakis (traditional cotton khakis or slacks in a khaki color) with a polo shirt, slacks and a button down with no tie, or slacks with a golf shirt. It typically means no jacket or tie, but you could sometimes wear a blazer with a button down and no tie in order to comply with a more formal type of business casual dress (depending upon the situation).
For women, business casual can mean many different things. It typically means any type of professional attire that is not a suit. It can include a dress, a skirt and blouse, or slacks and a blouse. As with men's attire, business casual for women typically means that you can leave your suit jacket at home.
If you have any questions about what it means to dress in business casual, please contact the CSO and we can help you on a case-by-case basis!
Interview Attire for Men
- Suit: In most interviews, it is recommended that men wear black, navy or gray suits (solid or subtle pinstripes).
- Shirt and Tie: Dress shirts should be solid, preferably white, cream, or pale blue. Be sure the shirt and suit are pressed/ironed. Ties are fun, but this is not the right time to show your wild side!! A wide variety of ties may be worn, but keep in mind that muted colors in solid, stripes, or small patterns are preferred.
- Shoes and Socks: Make sure your shoes are polished. Leather, lace-up, or slip-on business shoes, preferably in black, brown or other dark color, are preferred. Socks should be a dark color (never white!!) and of mid-calf height so that no skin is visible when you sit down.
- Cologne and Jewelry: Minimize or avoid the use of cologne and jewelry. Be aware that right or wrong men wearing earrings or other jewelry might not always be viewed positively.
- Hair: Your hair in general should be neatly groomed, but if you happen to have long hair or facial hair there are other considerations. With long hair, consider putting it in a ponytail to keep it out of your face. Many students choose to shave for the duration of the interview process. Regardless, beards or mustaches should be well groomed.
Interview Attire for Women
- Suit: Wear a plain, neutral, or dark color suit (black, navy, gray). If you choose a skirt suit the skirt should be knee-length or slightly below. Tailored pantsuits are also appropriate. The most important aspect of your suit is that it fits you properly.
- Shirt: Wear a tailored blouse underneath the suit jacket. White or ivory or a light tone that matches your suit is appropriate. Lacy or see through tops and those that result in cleavage are not appropriate.
- Shoes and Hosiery: Closed-toed basic pumps, with medium or low heels are appropriate; they should be dark and match the interview suit (or be a shade darker). Hosiery is appropriate both for court and interviewing. Hose should be sheer and a neutral color.
- Jewelry, Perfume, & Cosmetics: Simple is best. You want to be remembered for what you had to say not the noisy bangles, how you smelled, your hot pink nails or your bright blue eye shadow!
- Hair: Styling should be simple and should not distract you from your focus on the interview. How are they supposed to remember you if they can’t see your face?!
Etiquette, and specifically business etiquette, is incredibly important in the legal profession. You will need to become familiar with the rules of etiquette in order to know how to handle a variety of situations. Whether you realize it or not, people pay attention to etiquette. These rules govern our behavior and it is assumed that polished manners translate into polished work. Make your manners shine by following the simple rules contained in this guide. Here are a few useful Guides to assist you:
Also consider visiting the Culture and Manners Institute’s website to learn more and to receive weekly emails with various etiquette tips:
Learning how to correspond with colleagues, business professionals, and potential employers is absolutely necessary when learning to communicate effectively as a soon-to-be lawyer. Cover letters will be your most common form of correspondence, but there are a variety of other types of correspondence with which you should become familiar. If you are looking for assistance in writing a cover letter, click here. Below is a brief description and suggestions for other types of professional correspondence. For additional guidance, make an appointment to talk to a career services counselor or click here to be directed to our complete Cover Letter and Correspondence Guide (make this one locked).
Thank you letters
- Should be sent anytime you have interviewed with someone
- Should be short and sent to the person(s) with whom you interviewed
- Handwritten notes on nice stationary, traditional business letters and even e-mails may be appropriate. .
- Handwritten notes should only be sent if you have good/very good handwriting,
- E-mail thank you letters may be appropriate if a firm has indicated that they will be making their decisions quickly.
- Thank them for their time, reiterate items of particular interest, common ties between you and the interviewer and answer any questions the interviewers raised before stating your continued interest in the employer
- Send the letter within 24 hours if possible but sending a letter late is better than not sending one at all.
NALP Guidelines indicate that all job offers, salaries, terms of employment, etc., should be made in writing by the employer, and your acceptance should always be confirmed in writing. This isn’t always the case but it does constitute best practice.
If an employer makes the offer by phone or e-mail, it is common to respond in the same way and then follow up in writing to confirm. If you leave a voice mail, do so only during business hours.
- Indicate you are rejecting the offer, noting the date and who made the offer
- You can include any explanation you feel is necessary but you need not volunteer a lot of information, just be direct and very polite
- State you were grateful for the offer and you appreciate their time
- You want to keep your options open in the future and politeness is key
- Accept the offer and state the term or starting date (if a permanent position)
- Include by whom and when the offer was made
- Ask for additional clarification if necessary to verify details
- End with a statement of gratitude