What Are You Wearing?

 Posted on October 09, 2007 in Uncategorized

On Sunday Malum in Se wrote about running into a prominent criminal defense attorney at the local Walmart. On Sunday afternoon, the lawyer was wearing khakis, a long sleeve shirt and a tie. Alright, you might say, he had probably just come from church. Or maybe brunch with his mother.

But this Prominent Lawyer gave himself away when he commented on Malum's own attire: "Mr. PD, perception is reality. I envy you at guys at the PD's office being able to run around town in sweat shorts and a tee shirts." PL was wearing khakis and a tie to Walmart on the Gulf Coast on Sunday afternoon because he had to.

(A digression: pity those who are unable to discern metaphor from reality. They might think that perception actually is reality, or that the "war on terror" is an actual war. A criminal-defense lawyer who doesn't recognize a metaphor is severely intellectually crippled [metaphor], and probably shouldn't have people's freedom in his hands [metaphor].)

Occasionally I see a mention in the blawgosphere about how we lawyers must dress like lawyers. For example, Tom Kane's Dressing Professionally is Smart Marketing in his Legal Marketing Blog. The theory is that the clients expect it and are more likely to hire us if we wear business attire.

John Remsen, Jr., whose Enough is Enough: Lawyers Should Look Like Lawyers post Tom linked to in his Dressing Professionally post, wrote:

I don't know about you, but if I'm paying north of $350 an hour for legal services, I want my talented, high-priced lawyer to look like a talented, high-priced a suit. Crisp, polished and professional. The way he (or she) looks and presents himself (or herself) has a huge impact on how I perceive his (or her) skills and capabilities. That's just the way it is.

John makes a persuasive case. Legal marketing is his business, and I'm prepared to concede that he's probably right. Yet I'm not about to change my style. I have a closet full of nice suits, and I'll wear them to court, but one of my priorities when I get back to the office is to get into jeans and a t-shirt as quickly as possible. I work smarter in jeans and a t-shirt.

Maybe I'd get more clients if I kept the suit on at the office, but I don't need more clients. Maybe I'd get a better class of clients, but I like the class of clients I get. I don't really think I want clients who feel that a fancy suit makes a better lawyer; their expectations might not be closely linked to reality. My clients usually have chosen me over cheaper lawyers wearing fancier suits in fancier offices.

Dressing down may convey its own salutary message to the potential client - "this lawyer doesn't need to impress me," or "this is the guy I want at my side in a real fight" or even "this guy is all about his craft" - all of which are true. Or maybe my air of competence and trustworthiness simply outweighs my sartorial shortcomings.

There are lots of good reasons to wear a tie on Sunday afternoon. But being a lawyer is not one of them.

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