DOES WHAT YOU WEAR MATTER? GUIDANCE FOR ADVOCATES AND LITIGANTS
Does how you dress affect how you are perceived? A recent tweet (from the USA) contained a complaint from a lawyer that a judge had upbraided them in court for not wearing a tie. The lawyer asserted that there were no formal dress regulations affecting that court and he had written to the judge demanding an apology. The lawyer’s judgment was being questioned widely by many (and you can draw your own conclusions). Here we look at the views of various judges on the question of dress, together with guidance available to lawyers and litigants.
“Ours is a superficial society and so the way you dress in the courtroom counts.”
Mr. Gambini, didn’t I tell you that the next time you appear in my court that you dress appropriately?
Counsel: You were serious about that? “
(My Cousin Vinny).
A JUDGE’S VIEW
One of the primary tasks of an advocate (indeed the primary task) is to persuade judges. That is why so much time is spend on this blog looking at guidance given by judges. There is a detailed consideration of dress in an article by Roanoke City Circuit Judge Clifford R Weckstein in Ad-dress-ing Counsel written in 2006.
The judge was responding to an email from a fellow judge asking whether there was a written dress code for attorneys. As ever the aim of this post is to encourage you to read the original. However the judge himself encourages readers to read the footnotes and it useful to look at these in detail.
THERE ARE NO WRITTEN STANDARDS BUT…
The article is written as a response to the enquiry from the judge.
“• While the judges of our circuit have not adopted a written dress code for attorneys, we do, indeed, have clear expectations about how lawyers will be dressed when they are in the courtrooms, judges’ chambers and “judicial corridors” of each of the courthouses.
• We expect lawyers to be attired professionally when they are in a courtroom, judge’s office, or judicial corridor, without regard to whether they are planning to see a judge, or whether they were “not planning to come to the courthouse today.”
• Our expectations are based upon well-established standards of professional attire that apply not only to “a lawyer appearing in a court of record in Virginia,”2 but to lawyers appearing in state and federal courts throughout the United States. (And you can be sure that these standards, and our expectations, are not “unspoken” when, for example, a lawyer shows up in a circuit judge’s office wearing a polo shirt.)”
AND THE FOOTNOTES
“Lawyers must dress for court. No ripped jeans, but no top hat, tails, and spats, either. A well-dressed lawyer is formal but not inflated. Clothes do not make the lawyer. But they get the lawyer into court.”
Gerald Lebovitz, Dress for Success: Be Formal But Not Inflated, New York State Bar Assn. J., July–August 2001, at 8
“Use the trial lawyer’s rule: ‘Dress so appropriately for the circumstance and your role in it, that no one especially notices your clothing. They focus on you and your message.’”
Alan Parisse, SpeakerNet News, 7/28/2000, http://www.speakernetnews.com/post/businesscasual.html
“Your personal appearance and conduct in the courtroom is visible evidence of your respect for the rule of law and the administration of justice.… All attorneys shall wear appropriate attire. Men shall wear coats and ties. Women shall wear professional attire, i.e.: conservative dresses, suits and pantsuits. Appropriate attire for attorneys does not include jeans, warm-ups, jogging suits, sweats, shorts or other casual or athletic clothing, including athletic shoes.”
Okl. R. 7 Dist. Ct. R. 40
“Attorneys should not appear in court wearing sports, leisure or casual wear. Stirrup pants, culottes, men’s shirts with banded collars, casual sandals or shoes will not be considered proper court attire.”
OTHER JUDGES ON THE SUBJECT
It is worth noting that some of the other judges featured in this series have had strong views on this subject.
Mr Justice Joseph W Quinn in the first post of the series on judges and advocacy.
Your appearance counts
“If I tell you that your physical appearance counts, this fact, surely, will have some of you inching towards the door. Successful counsel look successful. They look the part. They do not wear crumpled gowns or soiled linen . . . They do not suffer from “gaposis” – a slash of bulging white shirt across the abdomen between vest and belt buckle. Their gowns fit; they are neat and clean; they look as if they mean business. Lest you think the matter is too trivial for attention, let me quote from a wonderful little book – Advocacy: Views from the Bench, published in 1984 by Canada Law Book Inc. and authored by Robert F. Reid and Richard E. Holland, two giants on the Ontario High Court bench in the 1970s:
“Successful counsel look successful. They look the part. They do not wear crumpled gowns or soiled linen . . . They do not suffer from “gaposis” – a slash of bulging white shirt across the abdomen between vest and belt buckle. Their gowns fit; they are neat and clean; they look as if they mean business.
If you do not believe this go to court and watch the good counsel. You will see exceptions, but the exceptions are so good at their job that they can afford to ignore the dress code a little. They do not ignore it much. Walter Williston was sometimes a little rumpled, but everyone knew he had probably been up all night honing his argument. You will be permitted to play with the standards a little when you are that good. I do not propose to analyse the connection between proper dress and success, but it is there. One judge has a test. It is called ‘droopy-tab syndrome’. When he sees counsel in a set of wrinkled, floppy, soiled tabs he makes a mental note born of long experience: do not expect much from this one. He is not always right, but you would be surprised at how often he is . . . (Another judge once called counsel into his chambers and gave him a set of clean tabs.)
It is rarely of benefit for counsel to emulate the slept-in look. Ours is a superficial society and so the way you dress in the courtroom counts.
GUIDANCE FROM THE BAR COUNCIL AND LAW SOCIETY
The Bar Council guidance on Court dress, stresses that “business suits” should be worn.
The Law Society Guidance recommends, in essence that the Bar Council guidance be followed.
“The chairman of the Bar Council in June 2009 issued guidance on court dress for barristers. When not required to wear court dress, the guidance suggests that barristers wear ‘business suits’. These are described as ‘dark coloured, formal, non-court dress’.”
GUIDANCE FROM THE STATES AND CANADA
In the States “how to dress for court” is an important part of the advocate’s training. A considerable amount of time is spent on this issue, particularly at the post-qualification stage. There are, I am told, full-time professors who specialise in just this one topic.
- Have a look at Bitter Lawyer on Ten Signs you are dressed unprofessionally
- Professor Lisa Mazzie advices on Wearing the Blues
- There is a blog devoted to this topic Look Like a Lawyer
- Smythe PC The Appellate Lawyer as Sartorialist
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU GIVE TO CLIENTS ON DRESSING FOR COURT?
Does what a client or witness wear to court matter? It should not, obviously, however the reality is that it can do. There is an interesting discussion of the issue by Christina Binkley in The Wall Street Journal Opening Statements; What to Wear for Court
“One California judge I spoke with says she takes account of both the appearance and the behavior of those who come before her court. Sloppy dress at trial might seem to add to the case against a father accused of neglectful child-rearing, she says. Or a woman who is claiming poverty in a financial hearing might undermine her case if she’s wearing highly expensive clothing”.
Juries may be even more judgmental, especially as they sit for hours with little to look at … but you…”
The article goes on to advise: “When going to court, most of us would be advised to look like the embodiment of the Boy Scout creed—trustworthy, loyal and helpful.”
If you read the article it is clear that some lawyers take advising their clients how to dress very seriously.
USEFUL GUIDANCE FOR LITIGANTS AND WITNESSES
Interestingly there is lots of advice on how clients should dress for court. Much of this travels from “across the pond”, but it travels well.
- Minick Law on How to dress for Court
- RMRS on The importance of proper clothing when meeting a judge or a lawyer.
- The Huffington Post has an useful article on How to dress for Court
- Avvo has an article by lawyer Huma Rashid on How to Dress for your first Court appearance with your Attorney
- Lawer 2B: Life at the Bar, Using your Dress Sense.