What Happens When the Tattoo Generation Goes to Law School?

Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I’ll be the first to admit I do not “get” tattoos. If you really want to show off that rebellious streak (or solidarity with the underclass, or unrestrained individualism, or whatever), there are many other ways to do so that are much less painful and permanent. When I see young people with prominent tattoos, I can’t help but think about the professional job opportunities they have foreclosed by making a permanent record of their youthful passions. But, according to an article in today’s New York TImes, my concerns may be misplaced:

In a mysterious and inexorable process that seems to transform all that is low culture into something high, permanent ink markings began creeping toward the traditional no-go zones for all kinds of people, past collar and cuffs, those twin lines of clothed demarcation that even now some tattoo artists are reluctant to cross.

Not entirely surprisingly, facial piercing followed suit.

Suddenly it is not just retro punks and hard-core rappers who look as if they’ve tossed over any intention of ever working a straight job.

Artists with prominent Chelsea galleries and thriving careers, practicing physicians, funeral directors, fashion models and stylists are turning up with more holes in their faces than nature provided, and all manner of marks on their throats and hands.

While the article has led me to reconsider that flaming skull I’ve always thought would look great on my forehead, I do note that “lawyer” is not in the list of professions in which visible tattoos are becoming more common. I wonder, though, whether there are some outposts of the legal profession in which tattoos have become the norm, or are at least more accepted than in others. And is there a resource guide somewhere for inked-up law students letting them know which employers are tattoo-friendly and which are not? Maybe this should be part of the NALP form . . . .

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Keith Sharfman

    Maybe the new trend has something to do with the story recounted in the late Tim Russert’s book about Russert’s son tattooing his father’s and grandfather’s initials on his torso. Russert’s initial outrage about his son’s tattoo was blunted when he learned about this particular tattoo’s substance and meaning.

  2. jeremiah

    Well, there is a difference between a street thug getting his baby’s Mama tattooed on his neck and a person honoring a loved one in such a permanent way. I have my Grandfather’s name tattooed in his own signature on my arm and it is the best tattoo I could imagine! Every time I look at it I smile, I wear a suit every day, and only I know what is on my arms.

  3. Jodi Suguitan

    I know I would wonder if I had a lawyer who had a visible tattoo. If it is hiding beneath layers of clothing and is never seen or advertised I don’t think you can really fault someone for such an expression. However tattoos still have a certain social stigma and lawyers are held to a higher social and ethical standard than your average person. It would seem to be a questionable decision by someone intending on entering the field. For the record I have no tattoos and am not considering the flaming skull on my forehead..

  4. Eric Daenecke

    Wow, I thought I just had to worry about lawyers with ponytails. Now I have to worry about lawyers with tattoos. What next? I think we are making a big deal out of this. I think it should be on a case by case basis. Anyone who even considers a flaming skull on their forehead will probably have a harder time finding clients. Memorial tattoos on the other hand probably aren’t warning signs for a crazed person.

    1. Danielle Sloan

      Yeah, because a persons inherent worth is coined off of their social profiling based on looks—definitely not actual integrity.

  5. Grace Lotus

    Please do not assume that all tattoos are the results of “youthful passions”. Not all of us sporting tattoos are guilty of what I refer to as “drinking and inking” (think Brittany and a tattooed lip). I didn’t get my first tattoo until well into my 30’s and well into my professional career. Having said that, I teach first grade. I made sure my body art was not in a conspicuous place. Do I really want a 6 year old going home and telling their parents how “cool” my tattoo is? So, ink responsibly is the moral here. Can you have a professional career and some wonderful body art? Sure. Just don’t take your shirt off at work.

  6. Jeff Thibault

    I got my first, and only, tattoo my 1L year of law school. I got a 1.5″ tall scales of justice on the inside of my arm high enough so it doesn’t even show with my shortest short sleeve shirt. My thoughts were if you get a tattoo of the symbol of your profession it can’t be considered unprofessional, right? Anyways, everyone loves it and nobody can see it unless I lift my sleeve up. But I agree that visible tattoos have no place on a lawyer’s body.

  7. Kenzie Butler

    I do have a tattoo which is visible on my wrist in black ink. I am an intern for a law firm, and no one has ever said anything about my tattoo being unprofessional. Now of course my tattoo is just roman numerals (can be covered with a watch band) of the date my best friend died, and not something else. I personally think it just depends of what the tattoo is of.

  8. Nadine Jean

    I have about 11 tattoos that are placed in areas that will be covered up by *gasp* clothes. Once I get to law school long sleeve shirts will become my best friend. And while I agree that facial piercings and tattoos can be a bit outrageous, there are several attorneys walking around with full body ink. Tattoos are just another outlet of expressionism. It doesn’t take away any positive qualities that another human being may possess.

  9. Raf Marg

    It is important for people to think twice about getting a prominent tattoo, particularly if they do plan to move into a profession that “frowns” upon such issues. That I agree with you.

    However, getting a tattoo isn’t just about going through a rebellious streak. Many people get tattoos for memorial reasons or for other important reasons close to that person’s heart. And these reasons often go way beyond the importance of getting a job in a particular field.

    So think hard before you get a tattoo, YES. Avoid getting a tattoo because of high-browed peers, NO.

  10. Ryan Caudill

    I would rather have an intelligent booksmart lawyer than a straight laced guy who gets by on less. A few reasons why I would believe a tattooed or pierced lawyer: he has obviously had to put more effort into being taken seriously than the “normal” babykissers; also a kind of subliminal psychological point is that I would rather have a person who has their sins laid out than tucked away exposing himself to other people in private; plus let’s face it even a common street kid is going to understand real truth of a new radical society. So….. maybe we take LAW into the courtroom rather than gramps old timey justice. We need brave people on political and judicial frontlines. Yesterday’s “punks” are tommorow’s leaders.

  11. tania mrtz

    i’m a freshman in law school & i plan on getting a few more tattoos, right now i only have 1 visible tat… i dont think appearance matters much in any job/career… you build your reputation on what you accomplish.. of course people will talk & have opinions based on appearance.. personally i don’t care & i’d rather be known as an excellent “tattooed” lawyer… than as a mediocre lawyer w/out tattoos.

  12. John Evans

    I am preparing to enter my 1L year this fall. Both of my arms are tattooed, a large piece on my upper right arm and a half sleeve on my left. I started getting tattooed about a year ago and my parents freaked out, believing I would never succeed as a lawyer if I had tattoos, dispite my hard work all through my undergraduate career. I also play in a punk band and have a lip ring. I’ll be dropping the lip ring before orientation and I’m stepping back from the punk band (purely because I know I won’t have time). But I wrote my personal statement for my applications about being in a punk band and I got into all the schools I applied too. Clearly the industry is changing, 1/3 of Americans have tattoos and if a loud, obnoxious punker can get into law school with hard work and dedication, anyone can. Nothing will stop you from succeeding, not even your tattoos, as long as you work hard.

  13. todd harrison

    I am completely sleeved (both arms) and am a managing partner of a practice group within my firm. If you are good at what you do, your greatest strength can be opposing counsel underestimating you because you do not fit within the norms of a conservative culture.

  14. R.I.A. Ratshitanga

    I am a law student in south africa studying hard and looking forward to being admitted attorney. I have tattoos in both arms but that does not make me any less serious or honest than a law student who does not have tattoo(s).

  15. Erin Crouch

    I really want to be a lawyer, but I’m also excited to get a certain tattoo that has meaning. If I had two tattoos, one small one on the back of my neck (that can be hidden under my hair), and one on my wrist (the inside of my wrist-where veins are visible), would that affect my dream to become a lawyer? The one on my neck will be my grandmother’s name and a small bird (it will be really tiny), and the one on my wrist is this tat that of the infinity symbol around the word “love” or “life” (haven’t decided yet) and it’s small, but not small enough to hide under a bracelet. I hope getting these won’t affect peoples’ judgment of me.

  16. Jonathan H. Strong

    I’m just going to put this out there as a person with tattoos who is currently working towards his degree in law. Currently active duty Navy, I have two whole sleeves. Ninety percent of my tattoos represent my naval service and are in good taste. U.S. Navy sailors are held to a very high standard, and we are submerged in our common core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. With that being said, I would have to disagree with the above comments stating that the tattooed represents a lesser individual, as that is very much opinionated.

    From my observation and passion-driven interest, those who practice law care about statistics, do not discriminate based on opinion, and are held to that standard of not being biased. Will my “poor” decision likely affect my potential employment? Likely so. However, I have absolutely no interest in working for a law firm that will be judgmental of my appearance (not to mention that mine are easily concealed by a suit). You can’t discriminate against race, sex, or religious preference. Tattoos are a choice much like religion is a choice, and neither will determine work ethic or overall disposition. I can say, however, that a very high percentage of veterans who are tattooed will be the hardest working and most dedicated people you will ever encounter.

  17. Sarah

    I’m planning on attending laws school and have several tattoos. Most are under my clothes, but one is on my ankle. If I choose to wear heels to work it will show. While I do think it is important to cover tattoos, at least for interviews and times in court, even my old school father is not concerned about the tattoo on my ankle showing. I don’t think tattoos are as big of a deal as they used to be, but if they are extremely noticeable my gut says it will effect your likelihood of being hired. It will not however, completely disqualify you from ever having a job as a lawyer.

  18. Anthony Mysano

    The tattooed generation may do much better than others. Even if it is a complex legal case they may handle it the way they handle complex tattoos. Like it or not, tattoos reflect new age and fashion and same would make it to the court room also.

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