You’ve heard the saying: don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want.
Lawyers in private practice generally want the same things: to make their law firms safe and successful, and to do a great job for their clients.
To that end, clothes can make a big difference, as fashion designer and legal consultant Brenda Swauger knows all too well.
“As a high-end custom clothier/stylist, I’ve advised both attorneys and their clients on how to dress for any situation, including legal proceedings,” she writes in this ABA Journal piece. “Sometimes I am brought in specifically to consult in cases to ensure no mistakes are made. I start by asking my clients what their personal style is and how they would plan to dress for the occasion. Once I’ve gotten a feel for their preferences and comfort level regarding color and design, we will jointly decide on a clothing strategy.”
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The courtroom is a theater, and what the actors wear – including you, your client, and your witnesses – will have an impact on the judge and jury.
“It’s important to dress for expectations,” Swauger says. “The lawyer should always look a bit more in charge, polished, professional and put together and have a certain command about him or her. The client should always be polished, too but typically a bit more understated.”
Here are six tips on dressing for success from the ABA Journal piece:
- It’s all about location. “City court attendees dress more traditionally than those in suburban courtrooms. If attending a court hearing in an urban environment, opt for a solid dark suit—either navy or charcoal—with a white or blue shirt and coordinating tie for men. If court is in the suburbs, it’s still recommended to wear a jacket, but you can also appear appropriate if you opt for a dress pant, white or blue shirt and tie.”
- Avoid bright colors. “Stick to navy, charcoal, white and light blue. Bright colors can be offensive to some judges and give an unintended impression.”
- Be conservative. “When in doubt, chose a traditional or conservative outfit. Keep tattoos and body piercings covered up and/or remove piercings if possible. Wear professional footwear and, of course, leave sandals at home.”
- Present yourself professionally. “Women clients and attorneys should consider wearing a pant suit, dress or skirt and shirt. Clients should never wear shorts, T-shirts or hats, and they should empty their pockets of excessive items that can make noise or draw attention.”
- Make it fit. “If the clothing is too tight or low cut, it can undermine credibility. I recommended skirt or dress hem lengths fall at the knee. Make sure pants are the right length, so as to avoid tripping and/or having to wear extremely high heels to accommodate.”
- Keep it simple. “It’s best to keep accessories to a minimum, including jewelry, scarves and patterned shoes. I suggest small earrings, and if married, only a wedding ring.”
- Dress to match the type of proceeding. “The biggest danger of not dressing the part is not being perceived as honest. If your case is related to a financial matter, attorneys should advise defendants to dress down, not to overplay brand names and cutting-edge styles. By wearing expensive clothes, jewelry or accessories, you could give the wrong impression, ultimately even affecting the outcome of your case. Dressing a domestic violence survivor vying for child custody and supervised visits in a floral print dress and cardigan sweater versus a power suit should play more sympathetically with a judge.
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