A few months ago, I read an article entitled "The Importance of a Woman's Image in the Workplace" that was published in Legal Ink Magazine by William Cane. Mr. Cane states that, “if you are a professional—like a CPA, investment counselor, or attorney—you are going to be judged on the basis of your appearance everyday by clients, colleagues and decision makers.” I do agree with this statement; however, I don’t agree with much else in Cane’s article.
It’s Monday morning…trial day! You awake and quietly move about the house in the early morning hours running your opening statements through your head. You know every file, every deposition, and every witness statement. You are ready. You approach your closet for your battle gear. What are you going to wear?
As a judge, I meet many lawyers with a variety of styles. Style is an easy way to set yourself apart from other lawyers in the courthouse, and a little bit can go a long way. If you think about the lawyers in your community, more than likely there are a few who stand out for their fashion sense. Whether it’s their amazing designer shoes, fabulous handbags, or super luxe suits, you know who they are. Chances are, as a young lawyer, you can’t afford their look. That doesn’t mean you should resort to wearing sweat pants or sandals to the courtroom, because one thing you really can’t afford is a bad impression.
There are many constraints on our fashion choices. Let’s face it, working in a courtroom or a law firm isn’t exactly the same as working for a magazine or design house. However, it is important to understand that style does not equal expensive clothes. Your appearance is your first introduction to the judge or jury, and a well put together outfit always speaks clearly. You’ve worked so hard prepping; don’t let your clothes or nail art be a distraction from a strong argument. Your outfit should be a silent supportive partner that makes you feel comfortable and confident. Even as you wrap up in court, your appearance serves as a reinforcing echo of your position and authority.
We all love fashion and typically female lawyers feel their male counterparts have it easy. “All they have to do is put on a suit!” My female colleagues and I have endless choices which include, but are not limited to: pant suits, skirt suits, dresses with a jacket, and endless separates. Then we have shoes to consider such as heels, pumps, sling backs, or wedges. Some women even have standing appointments for mani-pedis so that nails can change as easily as handbags to coordinate with an outfit.
All these options can spell trouble. Avoid anything that projects a sloppy, unorganized, and unprofessional image. Choosing a simple classic suit is always a safe bet. A fashion risk your Instagram followers adore might not be as well received in court or by your clients. Nonetheless, it is important that male or female, you know any preferences the court may have. For example, some courts may have relaxed dress codes in the summer that account for rising temperatures while others may have very strict rules that require blazers or jackets. No matter where you are, every court expects you to know their rules.
Decisions are made in courtrooms across this state that affect families, businesses, and even the laws that govern us. Judges and juries are tasked with fact finding in making those decisions. Whether it’s down on the coast or out in west Texas, they look to you for evidence and guidance. They will evaluate you as a package, and therefore what you wear in court can be impactful. Your appearance conveys your professionalism and respect to the court and client. So, when you pick your outfit for a simple hearing or two week trial, I hope you dress confidently, professionally, and with a little bit of style.