A story making the rounds the last few days involves a judge that delayed a sentencing for hours because a prosecutor was wearing an ascot instead of a tie. You can find various opinions on the subject at the WSJ Blog and Above the Law along with a host of others. But it was Anne Reed who posted on “What Not to Wear” that caught my attention.
Because the issue of what not to wear to court begs the question of what a lawyer should wear. I’ve seen everything from schlumpy sport coats to silk pocket hankies with folks dressed to the nines.
So if you are appearing in the well of the courtroom, do you dress down with modest clothes or up with your best? I once tried a case in the Bronx with a guy whose collars were always bent out of shape because there were no collar stays. I mentioned it to him in passing and he told me, “I do it on purpose.”
So here’s my take: I dress boring. Neat and clean blue and gray suits. Modest ties. No French cuffs, pocket squares or spit-shined shoes. My goal is simple: I don’t want the jury to even notice what I’m wearing. I don’t want them distracted from the story that I think needs telling, or the cross-exam I’m undertaking.
I’m in the courthouse to do a job, and that is to effectively communicate the case. And dressing either up or down will make me stand out in some fashion and that is a distraction that takes away from the case. Of course, since I’m representing the plaintiff, I can’t afford to have any juror take offense or be distracted. Defense lawyers, especially criminal defense, may feel like they can get more yardage out of a little schtick. They only have to convince one person, after all.
Your mileage may vary.