This post addresses a decision that every trial lawyer spends an inordinate amount of time contemplating: what to wear to court? The question is particularly relevant when it comes to jury trials. Jurors absolutely discuss and make judgments about lawyer attire.
Consider the following stories:
- Thirteen years ago I attended the NITA trial academy. Part of the process involved a mock trial with jurors deliberating the case on closed circuit television. One juror commented that my pants were “high waters” and that I shouldn’t wear “high waters” to court. That was my favorite suit. Guess how many times I wore it after that?
- During the same NITA trial academy I wore a khaki poplin suit. As I passed another attendee in the hall he asked me if my suit was made out of burlap. It didn’t matter that he was kidding and that we were both “under the weather” from a very late night with other attendees. I couldn’t wear the suit to court after that.
- I have heard a lawyer blame losing a trial on wearing nice suits to court.
- I have heard a lawyer blame losing a trial on wearing cheap suits to court.
- I have watched focus group deliberations where lawyers who deliberately dressed down with a sports coat and slacks instead of a suit were derided by the focus jurors for not wearing a suit. At least half the focus groups that I have participated in involved juror discussions about attorney attire.
- I tried a case to verdict in Hinds County where during deliberation jurors voted on a “Who’s who” for the lawyers in the case. Not surprisingly, Barry Ford won best dressed.
- Prominent lawyer David Boies has a simple system. He gets one cheap blue suit and wears it every day for the entire trial with black tennis shoes. At the end of the trial, he has been known to take the suit off and leave it in the trunk of his rental car.
Some lawyers believe that there are suits venues and sports coat and slacks venues. Other lawyers believe all venues are the same. And I couldn’t even begin to analyze how these issues affect women lawyers. But I do know that it is even a bigger issue for women due to having more options as to what to wear.
Hinds County Circuit Court has a local rule that governs lawyer attire. Rule 1.10 provides:
All attorneys are expected to dress in professional attire.
Personally, I think the Mississippi Supreme Court should strike that rule as unconstitutionally vague. In the Summer I would like to wear to court the attire of a professional golfer. Something tells me that that would not go over well.
When it comes to court attire, judges have it easy. They just put on their black robe and hit the bench. Sometimes I wish lawyers had courtroom uniforms—like maybe jump suits. The jumpsuits would be color coded based on who the lawyer represents. Prosecutors wear one color, criminal defense lawyers another. Civil plaintiff and defense lawyers would have their own colors.
Can’t someone on the rules committee do something about this?