Do Lawyers Need to Hide Their Tattoos

Do Lawyers Need to Hide Their Tattoos at Work?

In Legal, Tattoo Policies by Trip20 Comments

lawyers and tattoos

lawyers and tattoos

A recent study performed by the University of Minnesota on the percentage of students who get tattooed during their school years reveals some interesting, if not too surprising, data.

Students in the Liberal Arts programs are tattooed more often than any other sector – no big surprise there! Social science and history majors come next in the frequency of tattoos. Business majors almost never get a tattoo. And if they do it is usually on their torso where it is fully covered up during office hours. Of those who go on to pre-med, 20% of male students get a tattoo, while 9% of the women pre-med students also are tattooed. You might think that students going on to law school would be as conservative and cautious as their counterparts in the Business MA program, but you would be wrong. A whopping 45% of all law students have a tattoo by the time they graduate, and it is not always inconspicuous! The two favorite spots on the body for the tattoo are behind the right ear or on the right side of the neck, and on the ankle.

A little digging into law journals and blogs reveals the fact that large attorney firms frown very severely on any tattoo that is visible. Most of their HR departments have a clear and terse policy in place when it comes to hiring new attorneys; no kind of marking may be visible while dressed in conventional business attire. Even a butterfly tattooed on the palm of the hand is enough to keep you from working for the big wigs down on Nicollet Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis. The Minnesota Daily, the student newspaper for the University of Minnesota, ran a series of articles on recent graduates and the challenges they face; one of the graduates they followed was Sue Ellen Bentlax, who graduated from law school in 2011 and has not yet received any firm job offers from a law firm. She has interviewed, by her own count, over thirty times in the last six months, but the small rose she had tattooed on the side of her neck during a drunken birthday celebration seems to draw immediate, and negative, comment from every HR person she has talked to. “They all say the same thing; any judge who saw my tattoo would be immediately prejudiced against me.” In her case the damage is getting worse because the tattoo was not done properly and the subdural ink is starting to spread out, making the tattoo large and unsightly. Bentlax has asked her parents for a loan to pay for having the tattoo removed, but is not sure she wants to go through with the laser operation. She says she hears it is not too painful, but may leave some slight skin puckering around the area where the tattoo is removed.

The New York Post ran an article on what judges thought of lawyers with tattoos. They naturally wanted to make it as sensational as possible, but found that for the most part judges don’t really care about small, unobtrusive tattoos. That is, unless, it is a gang sign or gang colors. Then the judges were unanimous for asking the attorney to excuse themselves until they could get the offending mark either covered up or eradicated.

Law professors, when quizzed about law students getting tattoos, were also unanimous in condemning it as a waste of money and a possible career hazard. Henry Laughton Besserton, a professor emeritus at the Harvard Law School, wrote to the American Bar Association that “any law student contemplating getting a tattoo in these shaky financial times is a fool. Even one that is hidden by ordinary street clothes is a risky business. What if the young lawyer plays golf with his or her older associates or participates in athletic events where the tattoo will be seen? If you must have a tattoo, then join the Marines!”

The consensus seems to be that while a small, inoffensive tattoo may be acceptable, the serious law student had better think twice about having a dragon entwined around an ankle or a flaming skull on the chest or arms. Or, as Rush Limbaugh said in one of his broadcasts, “Make enough money to retire first, and then have your nose pierced for all I care! All I know is I would never, ever, hire an attorney who has purposely scarred their body with a tattoo!”

About the Author of “Do Lawyers Need to Hide Their Tattoos at Work?”:
Tim Torkildson is a former paralegal who now works as a free-lance blogger for law firms such as Disability Insurance Lawyers.

Photo Credits:
Featured Image: Law library books via photopin (license)

Do you think it’s appropriate for a lawyer to have a tattoo?

Comments

  1. Serenity Rain

    I want to get a double infinity on my inside wrist and I want it small if I covered it with a bracelet would that be ok?

    1. Trip

      The policy will vary between law firms. It would be best to check with your HR coordinator if you’re worried your firm won’t allow it. If it’s going to be small enough to cover with bracelet it seems like there shouldn’t be an issue but it’s always good to double check.

  2. Jason

    I have visible tats, but I probably wouldnt retain a lawyer that had one visible, especially on their neck!

  3. Leah Singleton

    It’s ridiculous that someone who works hard to be in the law profession is denied and discriminated against for their right to choose what they wish to do with their body plain because of the social stigma that comes with it.

    1. Trip

      We couldn’t agree with you more. Employers can’t discriminate based on gender or race but they can discriminate based on appearance. Evaluations should be based on how well you do the job.

  4. Nobulungisa Mbaliseli

    I don’t see anything wrong with having any kind of tattoo. It’s your body after all. It therefore should be okay for lawyers to have tattoos, when you’re in court you’re not there re your tattoos – you’re there re the case, if the judges can’t handle your tattoos then they must just close their eyes and listen to what you have to say, that’s all.

  5. Brett Gibson

    If Rush Limbaugh doesn’t like it that’s all I need to know. Taxi, to the nearest tattooist!

  6. Seipati

    I have a tattoo at the back of my neck its not big and I want to study labour law……will it still be a problem but come on guys.

    1. Author
      Trip

      A tattoo on the back of your neck shouldn’t be visible if your hair is down and it shouldn’t be an issue if you’re wearing a shirt with a collar but the policy is going to vary from law firm to law firm. You won’t really know if it’s an issue until you start applying for jobs.

    1. Author
      Trip

      If you are female you might not be able to wear a strapless dress but you’ll probably be in a suit most of the time… even if you are a paralegal.

      1. Allison

        As a female with tattoos going into law…I’d rather shoot myself than show up to work at a law firm in a strapless dress! I have one just above my collarbone the size of a quarter and it’s covered up easily with straps thicker than two fingers.

  7. Joshua Herrera

    I want to become a corporate lawyer and I was planning to get a tattoo on my right calf, would that somehow make things hard for me accomplish being a lawyer?

  8. Daisy

    when I turned 18 I went out and got a tattoo of a tree on the back of my ankle. Now, as I’m almost done with my bachelors and plan on going to law school to hopefully become an environmental lawyer, I worry about the limitations it will put on me. It would be visible if I chose to wear a skirt. I wish we could get to the place where tattoos weren’t such a taboo.

    1. Author
      Trip

      Unfortunately, people judge each other based on appearance… especially at work. It all depends on the firm you decide to work for. Also, how often would you wear a skirt… leggings would do the trick? Good luck to you!

  9. Jalen

    I think MANY of you are forgetting that you typically wear business attire clothing if you’re a lawyer (or any other professional profession). If your tattoo is hiding from the outfit that you’re wearing then you should be fine. I personally wouldn’t “broadcast” my tattoos (I plan on getting a Sleeve) because your employer may think you’re just seeking attention. Getting a tattoo doesn’t make you a idiot nor does it make you a criminal. I think many of you are forgetting the time and the type of mindset you need to even finish college let only law school (especially considering you have to take the bar to even practice law). My only advise is to think carefully about what exactly you are getting (how it changes how people view your) and where exactly you get it (whether or not it will be visible in business attire).
    Ps. Sorry if my grammar is terrible, I’m writing this on my phone.

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