I Want More Tattoos


QI am a second-year associate at a mid-sized firm. I have six tattoos, all of which are concealable. I would like to get more, but I am unsure whether this will reflect negatively upon me as I advance in my career. None of them are distasteful (i.e. naked chicks or something), and I understand that, as much as I want to, I cannot get tattoos in prominent places like my neck or forearms.  But I have one on my left arm from my shoulder going down my bicep that I would like to expand down about two inches. This would make it easily noticeable if I were to wear a polo shirt, as it currently is barely concealed by a polo sleeve. The tattoo means a lot to me, and the addition would as well. Can I do it, or should I suck it up and keep it as is (i.e.: concealable)?

ATattoos in law firms are like whores at a nunnery. They stand out, but not in a good way.

What I’m saying is that people will definitely notice your tats and probably draw lots of false and ridiculous conclusions about you. Some will even hate you. But if it’s important to you, like really goddamn important, do it. Follow your bliss, homie. Just be aware of the detrimental, superficial consequences. Right or wrong, your fellow lawyers WILL judge you. The more snotty your firm, the more judgmental they’ll be. In case you haven’t noticed, the law biz ain’t the most progressive, enlightened profession in the world.

If you’re thinking of becoming a Public Defender or a staff attorney at the ACLU, however, lots of tattoos probably won’t matter. But if your goal is to ultimately make partner at Simpson Thatcher, it’s not a genius move. Within minutes, you’ll be known as “the tattoo guy,” which means to succeed, you’ll have to work extra-hard to overcome the unfair, negative perception that will, no doubt, precede you. Sounds petty and archaic, I know, but isn’t that what Big Firms are?

I have experience in this arena. Sort of. Years ago, my “progressive, uber-cool” roommate with really, really long hair landed a job at a top NY firm. (Think Johnny Depp. Or that ugly dude who was married to Kate Hudson.) Before he started work, he considered getting his hair cut, but decided against it. “If they don’t like my hair, fuck ‘em.” Well, to make a long story short, he got fired after six months. I’m not saying his hair was the reason, but I guarantee it didn’t help.

I’m all for individualism, my ink-obsessed comrade, but know this: If you choose to be unconventional in a conventional business, you’ll always have to perform better than everyone else just to be considered average. You’ll have to be great to be considered good. If you perform slightly worse, you’ll be considered a disaster. It’s not fair, but it’s true.

Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to share a stupid cartoon I saw recently. A frowning, nervous client sits across from a smiling lawyer dressed in full-blown clown regalia. Makeup, hat, red nose, floppy feet. The caption reads: “Of course I’m good. You think I could get away with this shit if I weren’t?” That’s pretty much how I feel about a second-year associate with lots of tattoos.

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

31 Comments

  1. Alex Hump

    February 3, 2009 at 4:39 am

    Yes, It is a turnoff to hump a babe with some other guy’s initials on her, no matter where that tattoo is.  Even BL1Y should agree here.  I think it is like a dog who marks a fire hydrant by peeing on it.  Do YOU want to “go there” afterwards?  No way.  I think this rule may also apply to men with tattoos.  While some dumb women (who are very loose) will look at a tattoo as a sign of masculinity, other women will correctly look at them as a sign that the man is not a leader, but a follower who needs to mark himself to identify with something stronger.  Witness the a-wipes from all the California motorcycle gangs that mark themselves to identify with other men.  Some can think of this as almost a homo thing, though they try and disprove this by hanging out with really gross gang banging chicks that can often carry more STDs than you can count on the fingers of 2 hands.  And those gangbangers’ own tattoos are pretty gross.  No one can even count the men they’ve “been with”.  The lesson here is to avoid men and women with tatoos, and if you don’t have one, don’t get one.

  2. Anony

    February 3, 2009 at 5:36 am

    I can “guaranty” that isn’t spelt correctly. D-bag

  3. BL1Y

    February 3, 2009 at 5:37 am

    Alex: Was there any doubt I wouldn’t agree? I think you’ve mistaken “even BL1Y should agree” with “even Alma Federer/Lady of Law/Fake BL1Y should say that even BL1Y would agree.” I think tattoos in general are pretty stupid.  They’re somewhat expensive, and almost always pretty ugly.  And who really believes this second year has some design that really means a lot to him?  Everyone claims their tattoos mean a lot to them, but just how much can a faux tribal design mean to anyone?  I think it just means “I was dumb enough to risk my job over a stupid tattoo.” I guess that’s a lot of meaning, but not worth getting a tattoo over.  The only tattoos I can think of that are an exception are the marine corp swallows (haha, swallows).  For those, yeah, the whole point is that you’re identifying with something stronger than yourself.

  4. Anonymous

    February 3, 2009 at 6:08 am

    Even though Alma would like to “tattoo” the men on this site, I am sure she would not date, let alone mate with, a man with a tattoo.  Hello, Alma, are you there?

  5. BL1Y

    February 3, 2009 at 6:13 am

    I agree with Anonymous.  I’d even go so far as to say Alma won’t date, or mate with, any man at all.

  6. Ace in the Hole

    February 3, 2009 at 7:25 am

    Alma will likely “mate” with plenty more guys before she gives up and realizes no one is going to marry her.  There’s an off chance she’ll realize that her resentment and sense of entitlement are both seriously misplaced and unjustified, and then could perhaps actually find a guy, but I doubt it.

  7. DT

    February 3, 2009 at 7:57 am

    I really think that you are missing the point. Conformity is fine and so is being an individual. Some tatoos representing membership in a group, significant life experiences, or expressions of your person are important things that are cultural. There is life beyond biglaw, a lot of life. Just cause you are unfamiliar with other cultures doesnt mean you shoudl devalue them

  8. Alma Federer

    February 3, 2009 at 8:21 am

    Of course I can have a fulfilling sex life, with the RIGHT man.  The BOYS on this site do NOT qualify.  However, the MAN I decide to sleep with will qualify.  I do not like tatoos, so everyone should know that going in.  I also do not have any tatoos, so my man will not be shocked when he “pulls down my pants”.

  9. Lady of Law

    February 3, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Why don’t you just grow a full beard while you’re at it?  People love law experts who look like they’re in a garage band.

  10. BL1Y

    February 3, 2009 at 9:23 am

    DT: Just because something is “cultural” doesn’t mean it’s not also a bad idea.  Getting the Dark Mark tattooed on your arm would arguably be cultural.  So would getting a chemical burn in the shape of a kiss on the back of your hand.  But, the majority of tattoos that white, corn-fed, American lawyers are getting, while technically cultural, are also stupid.  PS: I love how Alma talks about having sex as a hypothetical.

  11. Alex Hump

    February 3, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Alma, the man who you wind up bedding will have to be so whipped that he will have no mind of his own.  He will accede to your every wish.  He will not want to do anything you do not suggest, and will be an obedient servant.  You will not “do” anything for him, but he will service you in every way you desire.  In the event he has the audacity to ask for some sexual favor you do not want to perform, you will cut his cohones off, and he will sing soprano for the opera.  Does that sound like your ideal man, Alma?  If so, let all would be takers line up.  You sound like a real shrew!

  12. DT

    February 3, 2009 at 9:46 am

    BLY1:
    Im talking about tatoos from the miliatry, tribe or band if you are native american or even dates of remembrence. I’m not talking about a big middle finger tatood on your forehead.
    Anyways, i think biglaw is conservative, so you are probably not going to find a lot of people who dont come from white upper middle class suburbia

  13. Jen

    February 3, 2009 at 10:47 am

    It’s true Tattoos just don’t work in the law firm environment especially at a big firm like mine.

  14. BL1Y

    February 3, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Jen, who the hell asked you?

  15. Alma Federer

    February 3, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Bite me, Alex and you other sexist men.  You are just jealous because I am pretty and have all the male attention I need w/o having to cow-tow to you men just to get what I want.  Men fawn all over me and it’s only because I have morals that they do.  If I were to spread whenever I met a man, they would not respect me and would treat me like dirt.  Instead, I have them jumping for whatever attention I feel like giving them.  And I DON’T go to bed with a man who I am not very serious about.  As a result, I have only slept with less than 5 men in my life.  So there. And I am not bitter; I will wait for the right man, and not just have sex with any little worm that comes my way.  You boys really need to stop hanging out at the frat house.

  16. chad_broski

    February 3, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Here’s a much simpler piece of advice: ask the managing partner of your firm if it’s a problem. If s/he says “yes”, you know it’s going to be a problem. If s/he says “no”, you know s/he’s lying.

  17. Ceegunz

    February 4, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Looking through these comments, it seems there are two objections to tattoos:  1) they are bad for a career, and 2) they are dumb/cliche/dirty/etc.  I won’t question the first objection, especially if the tattoo is visible.  But since when are you wearing polos at big law functions?  If you really want a tattoo, get one and simply wear a long sleeve to the golf outing.
    The second objection is ridiculous.  Many people find tattoos fulfilling and meaningful, and don’t care at all what anyone else thinks about them.  If it makes them happy, who is anyone else to say its stupid?  What do YOU think would be better, advancing at a soul-destroying career, so you can spend even less of your time with friends and family?  If any of you think this guy would be HAPPIER without a tattoo, do say so.  But your general opinions on tattoos?  Who cares?

  18. BL1Y

    February 5, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Nice observation that a body modification which could end your days as a law drone is probably a good idea.

  19. Grammar Police

    February 6, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    I’m surprised no Grammar Nazis noticed the “you’re” instead of “your” in the second full paragraph of the response. They always seem to be pointed out. Too much male/female bickering going on, I suppose.

  20. Grammar Police - Police

    February 10, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Grammar Police, what the hell are you talking about. Check yourself and your grammar – dummy!

  21. kh

    February 11, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Heads up dumb ass– you are addicted to tattoos.  Go on the web and read about such addictions.  The best thing to do is to fight the urge to get more ink.  After a few years the urge will wear off and you’ll be fine with the ones that you have and thankful that you didn’t get anymore.  How old are you anyway?  Like 27?  That probably means that you’ve gotten a new tattoo every year since you were 20—dude you have a problem. 
    Oh, and “it means a lot to me” is bullshit.  If the new two inch extension meant a lot to you, you would have gotten it before you got the other 5 tattoos.  You are probably one of those idiots who has a handfull of stupid bumper stickers on the back of your car too? 
    Enough is enough.  6 or 7 tattoos is too many for anyone, not to mention a law firm lawyer.

  22. none

    February 11, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    The decision should also depend on your practice.  If you are a litigator, you might be more intimidating.

  23. The guy who sent this question in

    February 12, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    Well, I’m glad that my question was selected, and I’m thankful for the advice that Mr. Ex-Bitter gave me.  I’ve stayed out of the comments until now, but kh’s comment reaches a whole new level of retarded that I just cannot let go unchecked. 
    Thanks for the heads up, dumbass.  I in fact googled “tattoo addiction” – call it my due diligence to confirm that you are retarded – and failed to find a single credible article that says tattoos are truly physiologically or psychologically addicting.  Of course, what the fuck would you know about their nature anyway, as I’d bet my entire net worth on the fact that you’ve never even been inside a tattoo shop, let alone been inked.  But hey, don’t let lack of personal knowledge stop you from being an epic douchebag. 
    The best thing for me is to fight the urge?  After a few years it will wear off and I will be thankful?  What the fuck are we talking about here, tattoos or heroin, man?  And before you betray your rampant stupidity once again by saying something profoundly ignorant like “the two go hand in hand,” you can rest easy knowing I’ve never done anything harder than alcohol or weed.  Which is not something that some of my non-inked legal brethren can say for themselves. 
    And I’ll be thankful?  Not only can you see into the future, apparently you can also see through the internet and into my head.  Where the fuck do you even remotely get off saying what I will or will not think in a few years?
    Your logic fail is so incredible it’s a thing of beauty.  “If the two inch extension meant a lot to you, you would have gotten it before you got the other 5 tattoos.” For your edification, asshat, the extension would be to memorialize a life event that had not yet occurred when I got the original tattoo.  So I could not have gotten it unless I could see into the future.  I know that you apparently can but unfortunately I was not born so lucky. 
    There’s not a single fucking thing in your comment that’s factually correct.  I’m not 27, I have not gotten one a year, and I don’t have a single bumper sticker on my car.  In fact, you wouldn’t have the slightest fucking clue that I had ANY tattoos if we met professionally, because as I said in the question, they’re all concealable.  Eat shit and die, you holier-than-thou fuckwad.

  24. kh

    February 13, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Whoa, take a break dude and try and figure out why you are so angry about this.  …
    I didn’t dream up the idea that they are an addiction.  Perhaps “addicition” is not the clinical term that should be applied but it is an addictive habit (exhibited by those prone to addiction) nevertheless which often gets out of control.  The websites below are not posted in an effort to say that they are reputable but just that other people claim the same thing I am claiming.  Actually these websites pretty much say that it is a myth that you can have a tattoo addiction but I can find the same number of sites that say you can’t really be addicted to adrenaline, yet clearly people are.  Perhaps you are addicted to the pain or are addicted to the attention you get from them.  Perhaps you are a self-indulgent freak who is stuck in a career and a life that you cannot stand and tattoos are your childish rebellion that you can hide when you want and flaunt when you want.
    http://www.wisegeek.com/can-i-really-get-addicted-to-tattoos.htm
    http://www.articleclick.com/Article/Are-Tattoos-An-Addiction-/938603
    http://weblogs.newsday.com/sports/columnists/jimbaumbach/blog/2008/12/report_posh_concerned_that_bec.html
    http://www.tattooology.com/are-tattoos-an-addiction.html
    (Also, I have a tattoo; only one; I had the urge to get more for about 5 or 6 years but didn’t; I love it; it is in a nonobvious place but people at my V50 firm still see it frequently when I am in work attire; i’m a chick)

  25. Sarcasmus

    February 13, 2009 at 10:46 am

    I never understood the desire to have tatoos.  Maybe I over generalize, but I have seen too many Chinese characters on people who clearly read no Chinese to think these things can make any meaningful statement. Notwithstanding, if it is important for you to masturbate in this manner, why don’t you just put it in a location that will not be visible?

  26. bj

    February 14, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Agreed that tattoos can be an addiction.  I suffered from this for about 4 years.  8 tattoos later, I still work in biglaw but am a staff attorney.  They don’t show at work and most people only think I have the one or two that they’ve seen in social settings.

  27. Ceegunz

    February 15, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    What about tattoos makes people so opinionated?  If you like them, feel free to get them.  If you don’t, don’t.  Can you imagine if we had this kind of a dialogue over every other potentially (but only potentially) self-sabotaging behavior?  Again, I’d like to ask… what do YOU think is so much more fulfilling that a(nother) tattoo prevents?  Please, enlighten us.  If people want to comment on the likely impact of his tattoo on his job performance, that is helpful.  (That was, after all, what the question seemed to be pointed towards).  But your ridiculous value statements about tattoos in general?  Give me a break.  Let’s start going through YOUR life decisions and debating their various merits, shall we?

  28. Anonymous

    February 16, 2009 at 5:47 am

    If a man gets a tatoo, he’s just an asshole.  If a woman get’s a tatoo, she becomes eminently f-able, and should be banged repeatedly, but that’s it.  No long term relationship with trailer trash, though short term humping is OK.

  29. nobody

    February 17, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    I you don’t care what people think about tattoos then get a bunch, all over your body and to hell with the haters.  However, if you are worried about what other people think (you probably are since you wrote this letter to Mr. Ex-Bitter) then read these comments and take them to heart—and skip getting any more tattoos.  Mr. Ex-Bitter gives pretty good advice here.

  30. Ex-Bitter fan

    February 19, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Bring back Advice from Ex-Bitter! It’s been two weeks, and you know we’re all wondering where you’ve gone.

  31. TJW

    October 15, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Fuck it. I have an angel on my throat with the words, “the great deciever” wrapping around into the wings. Its pretty fuckin killa.
    One time someone at my firm got out of line because my right leg is straight edge tatoo’ed out. I fuckin gave him the what for and broke his nose. Told him my ink is for life….

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