Lawyers Can Dress Themselves: The Attorney Situational Dress Code

So on Tuesday I talked about how lawyers shouldn’t trust their clients to dress themselves for court. That’s actually a good bit of common sense for any attorney out there, and for those of us who have had clients that we’ve represented in court was likely met with a resounding “No shit? You mean the guy who tried to sell weed to a cop who was in uniform shouldn’t be trusted to make good life decisions? Tell me more!”

Thanks for that vote of confidence. Look guys, they can’t all be on the best topics in the world. Sometimes you have to remind people that clients, left unattended, may decide to wear hot pants to see the the judge. Shit like this happens, I thought it was worthwhile.

Of course, the problem of dressing poorly for court doesn’t just extend to clients. It extends to lawyers as well, but in a somewhat more unique manner.

Alright, so here’s the quick and dirty on how lawyers decide what to wear to court. Law schools won’t tell you this shit, because in the world of the law school administration every lawyer wears a nicely pressed, three-piece suit to court each and every day they’re in practice. Hair is perfectly coifed, teeth appropriately whitened, fingernails trimmed, eyebrows plucked, the whole nine yards. Apparently, according to law school administrators and career development offices across this nation, each attorney is attended to by a team of professional dressers everytime they receive a hearing notice.

This shit couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is, what a lawyer will wear to court is amazingly dependent on the area they practice in, the severity of the matter, and the judge they’re in front of. This means the range of appropriate court apparel can, and does, range from “blue jeans and boots with a blazer and a tie” to the full on stripey pants and morning dress of the office of the Solicitor General in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. In my younger days, whenever I would get dragged along with dad to a rural courtroom, it was not uncommon to see a lawyer in short-sleeves with a clip-on tie arguing a motion in front of the court.

Now, this doesn’t mean a lawyer should lose their fuckign mind and go to court in pajama pants and a death metal t-shirt, but it does mean that the public’s perception of attorneys can and will be subverted once they encounter a lawyer stopping into court on his way to go hunting, plainly clad in hiking boots and camo. So how can a lawyer figure out what to fucking wear and when?

Office Dress

This one is really up to personal taste and office culture. If you run your own office you can wear whatever the fuck you want, whenever the fuck you want. Personally, when I was growing up in my dad’s office the rule was “Slacks and a button up, except on Fridays when you can wear a polo.” Everyone was also required to keep a blazer on the back of their office door in case they were suddenly called into court. There were no suits in the office unless the attorney had an important court hearing that day.

Now, in my current office however, I had to fight to get my boss to agree that I could wear the same slacks and dress shirt combination. Our owning partner is a holdover from the heyday of the 1980’s big firm culture, and that means in his eyes an attorney isn’t properly dressed unless they’re in a full suit and tie each and every day, regardless of what’s on the calendar. Still, other guys in the area wear nice blue jeans and a dress shirt for “office only” days. The general rule of thumb is “Whatever the office is okay with is okay.”

Tips, though: get cheap suits to wear to the office on the days when you have no court appearances and aren’t meeting clients if your office requires suits. No point in wearing out the nice ones just to sit your ass around sipping coffee. Second tip? If you aren’t wearing a suit, be aware that a client coming in may be a little put off to see the lawyer wearing an “Ass, gas, or grass” t-shirt around the office on a Tuesday morning.

Meetings

Once again, opinions fucking vary, but most folks can agree that meetings with clients and opposing counsel should be semi-dress affairs. Wear a tie, wear nice slacks, and wear a blazer to these. This would include depositions, client meetings, settlement negotiations, and other things of that ilk. Once again, there’s no point in going full on Brooks Brothers for a two hour long deposition in opposing counsel’s office so long as you’re otherwise readily identifiable as a fucking lawyer. At the same time, you need to remember that during these sorts of things you are acting as a goddamn lawyer, not as “Marco the Negotiator,” and you should at least make a minimal effort to appear as one.

In other words, don’t start negotiating by wearing sweatpants and talking about your wicked hangover.

Court

Court is a special creature, because attorneys don’t actually get a whole hell of a lot of control over how they dress there.  A courtroom is the private domain of the judge that sits on the bench above, and that motherfucker is going to decide how he wants people to be dressed when they appear before him. For clients, this will result in some minor admonition not to come to court dressed like a refugee from a prono shoot ever again. For attorneys, however, this will result in a serious tongue-lashing because, as a member of the bar that appears in front of the judge all the fucking time,. the lawyer is expected to know better than to wear a Spongebob swimsuit beyond the bar and into the well.

This can be confusing for many new lawyers to figure out, especially as they transition between courts and counties on cases. Some judges may not care if you come in without a jacket and tie to argue a simple matter, others may lose their shit if you come in wearing anything other than a full on suit even if it’s just a cattle call status conference. There’s no real way to know which is which until you actually go in front of the court. The safe bet is to always wear a suit in the courtroom the first time you appear in front of the judge, but pay attention to how the majority of the other attorneys in the room are dressed. If they’re in blazers, a blazer’s probably okay.

Trial

There is no excuse for wearing anything other than a suit to trial. Period.

Alright, well, that’ll about do it for me today. I’m a little backed up in the office, sorry for the abbreviated post. Tomorrow is Furry Friday where we’ll talk about the legality of changing your name to that of your fursona.

-BB