The law student’s guide to thriving at legal conferences

Legal Conferences

[ Makenzie Way, 3L at the University of Pennsylvania ]

Legal Conferences Preparation

Last year I had the opportunity to attend a legal conference in Washington DC as a representative of my journal. It was an out-of-state conference and I wasn’t sure what to expect, or what to pack.

Since then, I’ve had the chance to attend multiple legal conferences on behalf of various student groups. With a handful of legal conferences under my belt, I’ve begun to understand how best to prepare and conduct yourself when faced with such an event.


When it comes to conduct, you should treat a legal conference much like you would treat a law firm networking event. Attendees, ranging from professionals to academics, will judge your group, journal or school based on your conduct. So much like a firm event, you need to put your best face forward. Furthermore, just like a firm networking event, it’s important to talk to a range of people throughout the conference to make a lasting impression and maximize your chances of securing relationships for your group (or yourself).

Who You Represent

Throughout the conference, you’ll want to make it clear who you’re representing (whether that be your school or a group), and subtly note that you’re available as a resource should they have any questions. That said, you don’t need to spend the entire time trying to sell yourself. There’s a thin line between self-promotion or group-promotion, and annoying the attendees around you – try not to cross it.

Be Forward

Finally, do be forward with attendees or speakers whom you find particularly enticing. It’s expected, and even complimentary, at a conference for student representatives to pull select people aside to express their group’s interest in working with them. You shouldn’t be overly pushy; rather, you need only state why it is you’re interested in them; why you believe they would be a good fit for your group; and how best to get in touch should they want to take you up on your offer.

Now that you’re ready to kill it at your next conference, see the packing lists below to make sure you’re fully prepared.

Legal Conferences
Businessman walking with his luggage

Suitcase Essentials

Assuming you’ll be heading out of the city, or the state, you’ll need to pack a small suitcase. If you know the dress code of your conference then you can alter the clothing to match that information. However, since often-times conferences have no official dress code, you’ll want to pack a range of formal and business casuals outfits.

For a three-day conference a base-line packing list should likely include the following:

One or Two Neutral Suits and Matching Dress Shirts:

  • Obviously, if the dress code says formal you’ll want to pack at least two suits. However, even if the dress code says casual, you don’t want to risk being underdressed. Bring at least one suit in case you need it, worst comes to worst you can remove the blazer, or you can wear it with your business casual outfits below when you’re feeling a little chilly.

Three Business Casual Outfits:

  • You’ll probably end up wearing these to the conference, but if not, you’ll likely want to change into them for evening social events with people you meet at the conference. Note, if you’re staying at the same hotel as the rest of the attendees you’ll also want to wear these when you’re wandering around the common areas since they really don’t need to see you in your sweatpants.
  • If you’re low on space, try to match your business casual shirts to your formal suit(s) to save yourself from having to pack three shirts as a backup in case the conference ends up being more formal.

Comfortable Dress Shoes:

  • Though conferences may seem like the perfect time to break in new shoes since you’ll be seated a fair amount, I strongly urge you not to wear something that you can’t stand/walk-in for a few hours? In between sessions, you’ll find yourself running to and from different rooms or buildings, and there will also be periods of standing when you’re expected to network. Don’t be that person asking for band-aids.

Comfortable Walking Shoes:

  • Staying on target, if you have to commute to the conference every day and don’t plan on taking an Uber, consider bringing a comfortable pair of sneakers or flats to walk to and from the conference in.
  • Bonus: if you’re athletic you’ll want to bring these anyways so you can take advantage of the hotel gym.

One Fancier Outfit:

  • Often conferences end with a “formal” event. Men can easily re-wear their black suits, while women may want to pack to a dress – though a suit is fine too!

One Spare Outfit:

  • I’m all for precise packing, but a conference is not the time to pack only three shirts. Just imagine, it’s day one, you’re eating breakfast at the hotel and BOOM you spill strawberry jam smack dab in the middle of your white shirt. Now you’re forced to wear the shirt you had planned for day two, meaning you’ll either need to re-wear a shirt, purchase a new one, or pay to wash it.

A Presentable Purse or Briefcase

  • Conferences come with a lot of handouts. You’ll want to have something more professional than your backpack to store them alongside your water bottle, wallet and other day-time necessities.

­­A Rain Jacket or Umbrella

  • I don’t care what the weather forecast is, do not go to a conference without a rain jacket or umbrella. Trust me, I was once the girl who got stuck in a torrential downpour without an umbrella on my way to an interview. Dripping hair and a see-through shirt is not a good professional look – learn from my mistakes.

Day-Bag Essentials

Whether you’re attending legal conferences on campus or three states over, you’ll want to bring a well-stocked bag to make it through the day. You know yourself best, but most conference attendees tend to pack the following:

  • Notebook and pen (preferably a presentable one)
  • Battery charger for your phone
  • Umbrella (see above)
  • Snacks – to tide you over between meal times
  • Water bottle
  • Business cards
    • If you have these then they’re a fantastic edition. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked for my card at a conference! Personally, I ordered a basic 100 pack from VistaPrint for around $6.
  • Tide To Go pen
  • Advil – because nothing’s worse than sitting through hours of speakers with a headache
  • Wallet, complete with a government photo ID and your student ID for registration

Do you have anything to add to the legal conferences’ packing list that I may have forgotten? Please share it with me on Twitter or Instagram: @The3Llife

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