It was Shakespeare who first opined “Attire oft proclaims the man”, and Mark Twain who refined it, quipping “Clothes make the man- naked people have little or no influence on society. Never mind society-a trial lawyer is only trying to influence one person-the presiding judge-and having one’s client show up for court half naked, or otherwise inappropriately attired doesn’t help at all .
A court room is really a small theatre, (I’ve known a number of successful litigators who have taken voice and acting lessons to enhance their court room performance). Like all theatres, the actors wear costumes, with the lawyers, clerks and judges donning robes, waistcoats and high starched collars. It reminds us of the solemnity of the proceedings and the importance of our respective roles.
The other participants in the court process, the parties and the witnesses are likewise expected to come in costume. Police officers come in uniform ( and in olden times we even used to encourage RCMP witnesses to come in their formal red serge!) The expectation is that those involved will give a nod of respect to the court, and acknowledge the gravity of the occasion generally by dressing with some formality.
If only it were so!
Clients persist in dressing down for court, doing absolutely nothing to help their cause, or their lawyer, who is trying to persuade a judge that their client is honest, (or at least, more honest than the opposition) and more worthy of a verdict in their favour.
Now judges don’t decide cases on the basis of whose shoes were most highly polished, or whose pants were more crisply pressed, but they are called upon to make a careful, shrewd appraisal of the litigants in coming to their decision, and they pay very close attention to a client’s demeanour in the limited time they have to make their assessments. So why miss a chance to impress, or an opportunity to put a best foot forward – first impressions, and all that.
I’ve seen a drug dealer vainly trying to convince a cynical judge that he had eschewed a life of crime, while wearing no less than six cell phones on his belt, and an alcoholic father arguing for the return of his children, while still wearing the clothes he’d been tossed out of the bar wearing the night before; likewise a mother dressed like a street walker trying to make the case that she was a happy homemaker stay at home mom.
Less dramatic are the clients who simply show up in torn jeans and a t-shirt sporting a rude saying, or an image of Mick Jagger’s tongue.
As a young criminal lawyer, I rescued a couple of my grandfathers sports jackets from a box destined for the Salvation Army donation box, and kept them in the office along with some old ties. I would lend them out to incarcerated clients before their court appearance, just to spruce them up a bit. Every little bit helps.
These days, I content myself with lecturing clients to dress for court as if for a funeral, but even then the results are sometimes startling, making one wonder what passes as decorum at funerals these days.
So, if you would like the judge to think favourably of you , can it hurt to pay some attention to your attire? otherwise, “its your funeral” as they say, so wear whatever you damn well want !
HERE ENDETH THE RANT