Building Your Reputation
As they left Charney Hall’s first-ever free clothing drive this fall, many Santa Clara law students couldn’t believe their luck.
One student walked out the door with a red paisley silk tie and crisp white button down shirt. Another was delighted to find a chic pair of navy blue slacks and coordinating Vince Camuto jacket.
They were just two among 150 Santa Clara Law students who shopped at the event designed to help these up-and-coming lawyers—often of modest means—dress professionally for their job interviews, court, or client-related appearances. What’s more, almost all of the items had been donated by the law school’s faculty, staff, or law firms affiliated with SCU Law School alumni.
“When you go into interview situations, you want to look your best. That’s going to make you feel the most confident,” said Debbie Snyder, assistant dean of the law school’s Office of Career Management, which organized the half-day clothing drive on Nov. 13 and Nov. 15 with SCU’s Women and Law Association. “And to not have them worry about purchasing an expensive suit, on top of paying for law school—it was just so rewarding to see the students have this opportunity.”
The amount and quality of the offerings amazed organizers. Charney Hall’s first floor Lawyer’s Lab had been transformed into a mini-retail store with racks of men’s and women’s suits, jackets, shirts, pants—some unworn with price tags still attached. A selection of casual wear, shoes, belts, and other accessories was arranged nearby.
Pulling it all together with precision and panache were Kalena Paredes J.D. ’25 and Victoire Marion J.D. ’25, internal vice presidents of the Women and Law Association. The group promotes opportunities for women law students by hosting events, panel discussions, and now, the clothing drive.
It was the duo’s summer internship for Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Lori Pegg J.D. ’86 that prompted them to approach Snyder with their idea, something her office had also kicked around.
“One of the things the judge told us is that when you’re a young professional and just starting out, you don’t have a reputation,” said Paredes. “So all you have to show is that you look professional and that you act professional. She always said you don’t have to spend a lot of money on clothes, but always be mindful of your appearance and how you present yourself.”
Except that both students had limited professional clothing to wear to court, which made them feel self-conscious donning the same outfit, day in and day out.
“We thought other students must be struggling with this too, and struggling to even come up with outfits for interviews before they have a job,” Paredes said.
“One of the things the judge told us is that when you’re a young professional and just starting out, you don’t have a reputation. So all you have to show is that you look professional and that you act professional.”
With the help of the law school alumni database, they emailed dozens of alumni working at Bay Area firms or companies asking if they would donate clothes and help publicize the effort. The students arranged for bins to be brought to the interested law offices, along with posters advertising their effort. Some clothing was dropped off at the law school.
“We were scared we wouldn’t get anything, but when the clothes started coming in, they never stopped,” Marion recalled. On the first day of the drive, when they opened the Lawyer’s Lab door and saw a long line of students waiting to shop, their worries were over.
“People were leaving with their arms filled with clothes, and they said they were so grateful and so excited because they knew what they were going to wear to their interview,” said Paredes. “That was really special.”
The effort was so successful it’s slated to become an annual affair. Even more heartwarming for many was a surprise visit by Miguel Solorio, who with the help of the law school’s Northern California Innocence Project, had just been released from prison after spending 25 years incarcerated for a murder he did not commit.
NCIP staff and the program’s law school interns wasted no time in inviting Solorio to select a new wardrobe from the racks. He decided on a single suit, which he planned to wear at upcoming hearings and interviews.
“It was the last day of the drive, and nobody had chosen that suit. It was like it was waiting for him,” said Marion, who watched as Solorio used a smartphone to film the scene around him. “He was so touched by the event. And to be there and see something like that was just awesome."