Lawyers as a rule can at least figure out how to dress themselves. It’s actually one of the few things we do learn in law school, how to present ourselves to the court and others with the required amount of professionalism. I mean, that isn’t to say we didn’t occasionally go to class in pajama pants and a wife-beater with a Big Gulp of coffee and whiskey to carry us through the hours of Torts and Contracts that got shoved down our throats. We definitely did. But when the rubber met the road, we at least scraped together enough money for a cheap-ass suit because we knew that, to at least some degree, appearance matters.
I mean, for the most part we do. Except for that one motherfucker who went to court dressed like Thomas Jefferson, but he isn’t a lawyer anymore. Plus, in the case where he dressed up like Thomas Jefferson he was representing himself, and any lawyer can tell you that dressing like an idiot for court is a grand client tradition.
Clients, bless their brainless fucking heads, apparently don’t grasp this concept. Take a look at any of those “hahaha FUNNY, now click one of our 100 ads” websites and you’ll find a section dedicated to people who wear stupid shit to court. Be it a famous actress wearing a goddamn blue wig to appear before the judge or a murderer being sentenced while wearing a shirt the reads “Genius,” I’m pretty well fucking convinced that clients have some sort of shadowy cabal where they all get together and think of the quickest way to give their attorney a heart attack before a court appearance.
For lawyers, this means we have to play a role in addition to counselor and advocate. We have to be a client’s goddamn fashion consultant.
That’s a strange statement considering attorneys come in one of two types when it comes to our dressing. There’s the ultra-formal, buys nothing but the best handmade suits guy with like 18 embroidered dress shirts and 15 blue suits, and then there’s the schmucks like me who wear off the rack suits, slacks, and blazers most days because fuck it, I don’t need to spend a small mint unless I’m arguing to 12 idiots that think nice clothes = good lawyer. There’s not a lot of in-between there, we’re at one end of the spectrum or the other, and the only real rule we have is “Gray suits are fucking awesome.” They don’t teach a class on “Oh, baby, that does not go with your eyes” in law school.
Still, when your client is before the court, their appearance fucking matters because, you know, first impressions matter. It might be best to have a client that’s being charged with prostitution not show up in pants with “Juicy” written across the ass. I strongly suggest not allowing the accused drug dealer wear a t-shirt with a giant ass pot leaf on it. Those are the sorts of things that tend to make a bad fucking first impression.
Plus, if your defense or representation is based on presenting your client in a certain way, you definitely want to make sure they aren’t undermining the story you’re crafting by deciding it’s a good idea to wear a t-shirt that says “Smack Bitches and Hos” in a domestic violence matter when you’re trying to present them as a gentle, law-abiding soul. And this shit isn’t just limited to comically bad clothing either. You can have a client that dresses too nice for the court. Say, for instance, you’re trying to craft the case in a manner that makes your guy look like a small, locally owned business just trying to collect the money owed to it. Your client probably shouldn’t show up wearing an Armani suit and flashing gold rings. Yes, that one has happened before. Nothing screams “struggling businessman” like $10,000 worth of fucking clothing and jewelry on display, I tell you what.
In court, there is a certain degree of theater going on. The judge, and, if you have a jury, the jury, is going to be watching not only a witness and the opposing lawyer, but you and your client as well. Any decent trial advocacy program will teach you that there are times you need to perfect the poker face so as not to give the impression the opposing side has made a point, and this extends to the appearance projected by your client. Optics matter, motherfuckers.
Unfortunately, clients in general are complete and utter fucking morons. They become even more goddamn moronic when you leave them to their own devices and let them dress themselves. Like a toddler, you need to monitor what a client wears to court, otherwise you’ll be lucky if they don’t show up wearing rain boots, a cowboy hat, and nothing fucking else because those are their fancy clothes. Hey, cities are weird places, man. You get used to some shit. So how can you make sure a client isn’t going in front of the judge dressed in their homemade and totally awesome Elmo costume because they thought the blank staring of two ping-pong eyeballs would make them look more approachable?
Well, the biggest one is “the talk” that you should be having with every client the day before court appearances. The talk, which I repeat in at least two languages and, if I could, would have tattooed on the client’s fucking forehead (but that would defeat the purpose of the talk in general) is as follows: “We have court tomorrow. This is our first time in front of the judge in this matter, and it will influence how he views our case. You will need to dress as if you’re going to church on Sunday morning, or if you don’t go to church, you’ll need to dress as if you’re going out to dinner with your grandmother. It does not have to be a suit, but I would suggest slacks, a button-up shirt, and a tie. Make sure you shower, shave, and comb your hair before leaving the house. By the way, what’s your pants and shirt size?”
Why do I want my clients’ sizes? Well, it certainly isn’t because I’m looking for more raw material for my skin suit. No, it’s because, like my father before me, I have a collection of Salvation Army pants and dress shirts that I’ve purchased in bulk from the “outlet center” down the street from my office in a variety of sizes, including belts and a couple pairs of shoes. You would not believe some of the shit they’ll apparently wear to dinner with grandma. I sincerely doubt Granny is okay with a t-shirt that reads “Fuckin’ All Night, Hustlin’ All Day.” But just in case their grandmother is a “bad old bitch” with tattooed knuckles and an “old man” with a Harley, I toss a shirt and a pair of pants in the client’s size in the back of my car the day of court, and I make sure to tell the client to meet me a half-hour early.
Because if those assholes are wearing the goddamn Elmo suit, much like the proverbial five year old they’ll lose their privileges to dress themselves for court for the remainder of my representation. They will be handed the very fucking plain, respectable clothes I’ve picked out for them and instructed to go into the courthouse bathroom and change. Afterwards, they better plan on getting their asses up early for each subsequent court appearance, because I sure as shit am asking them to meet at my office on the way to court so I can review whatever the fuck they’re wearing.
Appearances fucking matter, and you’ll find over time that some clients have the self-awareness and self-preservation instinct of a baby about to shove a fork in an electrical outlet. A huge chunk of a lawyer’s job is to keep clients from hurting themselves, and sometimes that doesn’t mean we simply provide legal advice and representation. Sometimes it means we have to look at a client, do a triple snap, and shout “Oh HELL no!” before telling them to go change their outfits. It seems stupid, but hey, it’s part of the job.
At least they’re already toilet-trained and you don’t have to wipe their asses for them before an appearance.
I mean…most of them.