QI am a second-year associate at a mid-sized firm. I have six tattoos, all of which are concealable. I would like to get more, but I am unsure whether this will reflect negatively upon me as I advance in my career. None of them are distasteful (i.e. naked chicks or something), and I understand that, as much as I want to, I cannot get tattoos in prominent places like my neck or forearms. But I have one on my left arm from my shoulder going down my bicep that I would like to expand down about two inches. This would make it easily noticeable if I were to wear a polo shirt, as it currently is barely concealed by a polo sleeve. The tattoo means a lot to me, and the addition would as well. Can I do it, or should I suck it up and keep it as is (i.e.: concealable)?
ATattoos in law firms are like whores at a nunnery. They stand out, but not in a good way.
What I’m saying is that people will definitely notice your tats and probably draw lots of false and ridiculous conclusions about you. Some will even hate you. But if it’s important to you, like really goddamn important, do it. Follow your bliss, homie. Just be aware of the detrimental, superficial consequences. Right or wrong, your fellow lawyers WILL judge you. The more snotty your firm, the more judgmental they’ll be. In case you haven’t noticed, the law biz ain’t the most progressive, enlightened profession in the world.
If you’re thinking of becoming a Public Defender or a staff attorney at the ACLU, however, lots of tattoos probably won’t matter. But if your goal is to ultimately make partner at Simpson Thatcher, it’s not a genius move. Within minutes, you’ll be known as “the tattoo guy,” which means to succeed, you’ll have to work extra-hard to overcome the unfair, negative perception that will, no doubt, precede you. Sounds petty and archaic, I know, but isn’t that what Big Firms are?
I have experience in this arena. Sort of. Years ago, my “progressive, uber-cool” roommate with really, really long hair landed a job at a top NY firm. (Think Johnny Depp. Or that ugly dude who was married to Kate Hudson.) Before he started work, he considered getting his hair cut, but decided against it. “If they don’t like my hair, fuck ‘em.” Well, to make a long story short, he got fired after six months. I’m not saying his hair was the reason, but I guarantee it didn’t help.
I’m all for individualism, my ink-obsessed comrade, but know this: If you choose to be unconventional in a conventional business, you’ll always have to perform better than everyone else just to be considered average. You’ll have to be great to be considered good. If you perform slightly worse, you’ll be considered a disaster. It’s not fair, but it’s true.
Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to share a stupid cartoon I saw recently. A frowning, nervous client sits across from a smiling lawyer dressed in full-blown clown regalia. Makeup, hat, red nose, floppy feet. The caption reads: “Of course I’m good. You think I could get away with this shit if I weren’t?” That’s pretty much how I feel about a second-year associate with lots of tattoos.