STCL Houston’s “Law Suits” Program Clothes Students in Suits — and Confidence
South Texas College of Law Houston’s (STCL Houston) “Law Suits” program provides students with two critical necessities for landing their first legal job: a professional suit and the confidence a well-tailored appearance can bring.
Many law students are not able to invest in professional attire and struggle with how to “look like a lawyer,” especially when personal resources are scarce.
Three innovative women at STCL Houston — two professors and an assistant dean — found a way to fill the gap. Four years ago, they established “Law Suits,” a clothing program designed to provide qualifying students with suits and accessories in professional styles and colors. The program has grown exponentially — in the number of items available to students, and in student participation.
Several years ago, Professors Amanda Peters and Shelby Moore visited with two students who did not have professional clothing to wear to summer internships. Peters and Moore learned that the students did not have resources to put together the appropriate attire, so they purchased professional suits and separates for the students. This sparked the realization that there likely were many students in this situation who would benefit from having access to gently-used professional clothing. Peters and Moore recruited Gena Singleton, assistant dean for Student Academic Affairs, to help them in this effort. Hence, Law Suits was born.
What began in a single room with a few donated suits for women has grown into a large two-room operation with commercial-grade clothing racks holding hundreds of items, sorted by size and apparel. The women’s space has sections dedicated to skirts, pants, suits, individual jackets, and even shoes, handbags, and accessories. The men’s space has jackets, shirts, and drawers of ties — assorted by size and color. Students can enter the closets, try on professional wear, and check it out for their use. No payment or donation is required, but students are asked to log their names and the items they wish to take. Students are allowed to take two sets of professional attire, and are not required to return items. Many students are grateful for the support and return items when they are no longer needed, or if they require a better-fitting item.
The closets have grown through donations received by faculty, staff, and alumni, and also include several purchased items. All three women have become savvy online shoppers, finding sharply discounted professional clothing that is new or gently used. These items round out the availability of sizes, styles, and colors available for students, enabling them to select the items that make them interview-ready — and build their confidence.
Students who use the Law Suits program often write heartfelt letters to Peters, Moore, and Singleton, expressing their gratitude for the support the program provides. One student wrote, “I just finished my internship as a judicial intern and law clerk for a civil judge, and every day I mixed and matched the two suits and dress that I got from this program…. At the time I got the internship, I had no way of being able to get a nice suit.”
Another student wrote, “Thank you for the suits you provided me with this semester.” This single mother of two young children stated, “I had three interviews for summer internships, and I ended up with offers from all three.”
Peters appreciates the heartfelt letters written by those who have benefited from Law Suits. “Students are touched by the kindness of Law Suits and the donors who have contributed. It’s moving to receive something you need at a time when you cannot find the means to obtain it,” stated Peters.
The Law Suits program also offers tips on how to dress professionally. Singleton and Moore wrote guidelines on professional dress — what is considered appropriate, respectful, and polished. These guidelines, along with other tips they have compiled, have been recognized by students as an excellent resource and guide in understanding how to dress appropriately — maximizing their confidence as they walk into their first internship or clerkship opportunity.
Surprisingly, there also is a need to assist even younger attorneys to look like lawyers. “Law Suits helps students look the part, but also helps in situations we hadn’t envisioned,” said Peters. South Texas College of Law Houston is one of a few law schools in the U.S. that hosts the Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition, in which high school students from YES Prep West Campus, coached by STCL Houston students, argue a fictional case before actual judges. The four winners of the competition earn the honor of participating in the national competition in Washington, D.C. Although the trip is funded through the high school, these teenage students often don’t own the appropriate attire to participate in the competition. Law Suits has come to the aid of these deserving students, equipping them with the clothing — and the confidence — to bring their best to the national competition.
“We teach these students the law, but sometimes they need a little more, like food and clothing,” said Moore. “I am honored to have the opportunity to help those in need in some small way.”
Knowledge of the program has spread beyond the student and alumni base and into the Houston legal community. One female attorney working in the downtown area heard about Law Suits and emailed Singleton asking if she could donate her suits, blouses, and separates. Although the attorney did not graduate from STCL Houston, she knew these items were still in good condition and might be useful to others. The items were gratefully accepted and separated into the appropriate women’s clothing racks. Three days later, two female students inquired if they could visit the “closet” to find appropriate items to wear for summer internships. They were concerned because they did not have funds to purchase professional clothing before receiving their first paycheck. Coincidentally, they selected two of the suits and a few separates that had just been donated by the female attorney. Singleton wrote to the attorney to note the timeliness of the contribution, and express gratitude for the donations. The attorney wrote back, mentioning that she was once in the same shoes as the students, and was delighted to hear that her suits were helpful.
The law school has a strong sense of community, which is apparent when viewing the closets. “For me,” states Singleton, “community means that we accept students as they are when they walk through our doors. For some students, this may mean helping them with some of the basic necessities of life and of this profession. Our students receive their donated items with gratitude and then turn around and give back to the program when they are alumni. This is one way we support each other and maintain community.”
The Law Suits program continues to grow — in donations, and in use by deserving students. “We know that South Texas College of Law Houston provides students with the skills and knowledge they need to practice in the legal profession. Law Suits helps them look like they belong in any law office,” said Peters.
Those who wish to make a donation of professional attire to the Law Suits program can contact Gena Singleton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-646-1778. Cash donations also are appreciated and checks can be mailed to the law school, attention Gena Singleton. Please note “Law Suits” in the memo line of the check. All donations — clothing or monetary contributions — are tax deductible. STCL Houston will provide receipts for contributions.