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Don’t Lose Your Personality When You Get Your JD

Foot tattoos Ruth Carter

My Awesome Tattoos

I got an interesting email from a friend over the weekend. He just graduated from law school and is studying for the bar. He’s also training for an ironman race. He’s been in fabulous shape for as long as I’ve known him and his preferred running outfit is teeny tiny running shorts and sneakers. He doesn’t put a shirt over his tattooed chest. When he was in school he lived near campus but now he lives downtown near the courthouses and a lot of the big law firms. He was concerned that his running attire could have a negative impact on his career if judges and lawyers saw him. He wrote to me asking for my thoughts.

I told him the same thing I tell everyone: “Don’t do anything in public that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the paper.” If you’re ok with being seen shirtless and in little shorts in the newspaper, why would you have a problem with judges and lawyers seeing you? They’re just people. And who’s to say they haven’t already seen you? Most people are so oblivious that they wouldn’t figure out that you were the shirtless guy if they met you at a professional event.

My friend’s question made me reflect on my early days as a law student. I was told that I should change my clothes, my hair, and even my sunglasses before I started law school. I took out my excess piercings and kept the tattoos on my feet covered with shoes, dark socks, and tattoo concealer. I gave all that up and was back to being 100% myself by the end of my 2L year. I was happier for it and got more professional opportunities as a result of being me instead of trying to fit the law student mold.

Why are lawyers seemingly held to a different social standard than other people? When we graduate from law school, we don’t suddenly all become interested in golf, going to tea, or smoking cigars. Lawyers should never give up their personality or interests because they’re lawyers. I see nothing wrong with a lawyer being a shirtless runner in their free time, or even something more daring like a burlesque dancer or a nudist. It’s no more shocking than any other fringe activity like having extreme religious beliefs or seeing your favorite band live in concert 33 times. As long as you’re not hurting anyone or breaking the law, let your freak flag fly!

I can see where my friend might be concerned because he doesn’t have a job lined up after the bar. Bug here’s something else to think about – if you have to hide who you are to get a job, is it a job you really want? I’m not saying that you should flaunt your eccentricities, but you shouldn’t have to hide them either.

The only other advice I can offer of this topic is the wisdom that was bestowed upon me by my friend Evo Terra. He said to figure out whose opinions truly matter to you and then don’t give a shit about what anyone else thinks. It’s easier said than done, but those are definitely words to live by.

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8 Comments

  1. Andi says:

    Another thing to remember is interests are what make each person so awesome. Who is to say that he won’t be hired for his love or running, or that he will meet another runner who needs a lawyer and chooses him because of his awesome tattoos? 🙂 Keep doing what you are doing and everything else will fall into place. 🙂 So glad you didn’t give up being you. 😉

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks Andi! I couldn’t agree with you more. A lot of my professional opportunities have come as a direct result of my extracurricular activities.

  2. Charlie says:

    Hair dye isn’t “who you are” though and if you think showing tattoos on your feet is some form of radical expression- or that anyone cares- you aren’t in the world of adults.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      My tattoos are nothing compared to other people’s body art and hobbies. I think it’s odd when someone thinks having a visible tattoo is a sign of being unprofessional or that people who have any tattoos should always keep them covered. The same is true for people’s hobbies. If one of your coworkers asks you what you did over the weekend, you shouldn’t have to hide your extracurricular passions just because they’re not the norm.

  3. Sarina Ferguson PT says:

    I was also told to remove my piercings (over 10 in my ears) and cover my foot tattoo as well when I was interviewing for Physical Therapy school. When I went home that night I came to the conclusion that if they did not like my excess silver rings in my ears at school then I probably would not want to attend it anyways for 2 1/2 years. I did the same thing with my first interview. I tend to keep my tattoo covered if my shoe covers if it but I don’t specifically try to cover it, same with my watch covers my wrist tattoo. Honestly if I didn’t embrace these little differences on my body I would feel as whole and if I covered them or removed them I feel that I would not be true to myself. I am oddly proud of my earrings (each one has a significant year on the piercing) and my 2 tattoos (both major landmark moments in my life to commemorate). Most of my patients do not even notice them, and when they do it is always “what does that mean?” on my foot or wrist. As for my earrings they rarely comment, so I think people just see it as a part of me like I do. So I am so with you Ruth, sometimes letting your freak flag fly is ok

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks Sarina! I’m so glad that being yourself has worked for you in your professional career because you’re awesome! You’re patients deserve to know you, not some fake cookie cutter version of what someone else thinks a physical therapist is supposed to be.

  4. Laura Kirwan says:

    This post just made me laugh. I used to practice in Salt Lake City and worked in City Hall right across the street from the courthouse. I would walk to the gym down the street everyday and started chatting one day with this very nice woman, about my age, who was waiting at the traffic light. She commented on how small my gym bag was and how she could never manage one that small. I was working a pretty severe case of burnout at the time and just laughed about how I just didn’t care anymore how I looked when I went back to work. If they didn’t like it they could just look somewhere else. She laughed and looked a little wistful and said she couldn’t get away with that because she was at a new job and people paid attention. We ran into each other a few other times walking to the gym and chatted along the same lines. It was only after I’d made several cynical zingers about my employer and how tired I was of the whole thing that I discovered that my new friend was the latest appointee to the Utah Court of Apppeals. Oops. Good thing I wasn’t a litigator.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      That’s awesome!!!