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? 

  • Anderson

    The ideal way to dress is so that the jury doesn’t notice what you’re wearing.

  • Philip Thomas

    They always notice. They may like it, dislike it or be ambivalent abou it. But they are going to notice it and probably discuss it during breaks.

  • Anderson

    Possibly. The NITA jury I watched, never mentioned how I or the other lawyers were dressed.
    Dark blue suit, white shirt, subdued tie. Make the jury focus on what you say, not on how you look saying it.
    — Of course, many lawyers like to “take over the courtroom” and dress accordingly. It may work for some of them. But they may be winning *despite* that, rather than *because* of that.
    … Also, the post should mention that the catch-22 is 100 times harder for female lawyers, who must find the sweet spot between “why does she dress like a man?” and “why does she dress like a slut?”

  • I couldn’t resist commenting on this on my blog …
    http://chancery12.wordpress.com/2010/06/16/high-waters-and-burlap-suits/

  • Laurie Williams

    I enjoyed this article immensely! I have had jurors comment on my lipstick, my accent, my hairdo, and naturally, the length of my skirt (should it be a little over the knee, a little under the knee?)Should I wear a jacket even if I am wearing a very tailored dress? I had a trial up north where they allow the attorneys to see a question and answer time with the judge following the trial. One lady wanted to know who the lawyer was that spoke with that fake, hokey Southern Accent. Can’t do much about that! Thanks for the hoot!!!

  • Dana Glickman

    I enjoyed this article immensely as well. My opinion is an attorney should blend in as well as he can yet still remain extremely stylish. An attorney should let his personality speak for him so his clothes aren’t even noticed except that everyone knows they’re of very high quality.

  • Fred Chamberlain

    Hello from California,
    I am trying to find out two things. 1)Information on Judge Ralph North of Natchez Ms. (about 1880), and how would a circuit judge in those days dress? Would he appear in court in a simple black robe? Do you have any ideas where I can find out more information? Thank you for your time.
    Fred Chamberlain

  • VB

    Solid colors, warm colors, maroon, navy, black and charcoal, even hunter green with charcoal pants work. They look nice, not over done or under done. Those colors look good if the suit is cheap or expensive. The colors are professional and simple. Although I support team colors in jump suits. When i mentioned maroon, i meant for a shirt, not a suit. We can’t have a pimp representing an innocent person whose arrested for drugs or sexual harasment.

  • physco

    nice suits