The Ties That Bind

The day I finally cracked and gave up my law library was one of the most painful in my career.  A law library was a badge of honor.  Clients would ask me if I had read “all those books.”  In response, I would just smile.  They would be suitably impressed, never having read a book in their lives.  It was a perk of having a library.

The law library was great as a backdrop for interviews and press conferences.  It made me look, well, lawyerly. 

There was great comfort in laying books out on the table, stacked as high as they could before they tipped and fell.  Referring back and forth between cases was the rule.  Having a bunch exposed to my scrutiny, all at the same time, was the norm.  That was how we researched, before we plopped ourselves down at the typewriter with carbon paper between our sheets of Esquire Bond.

The law library cost a small fortune.  A new book came for each set every month, each with a number so we knew where it went on the shelf.  By the end, the books costs more than $50 apiece, a princely sum.  But the whole set reflected many thousands of dollars commitment to the law.

Even the real estate for the library came at a dear price.  As sets of books grew, they commanded more space.  There were tricks, placing every fifth book behind the others, to get more available shelf space.  But that ran out quickly.  The law library was like Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, screaming “feed me.”   And we did.

Then one day, when West and Lexis had passed through their CD stage and entered the internet phrase of research, and the book prices were increased yet again, I could no longer hide my head in the sand.  The days of the law library were over.  It was a pleasant anachronism, but too expensive to continue just for old time’s sake.

You couldn’t get rid of the library.  No one would buy it, and law schools were overwhelmed with donations and no longer wanted anything that could be held in one’s hands.  Books were pariahs, to be avoided at all costs.

I finally figured out a way to let go of my beloved books without being utterly wasteful.  I offered them in sets of 10 on eBay as “Designer Law Books,” great for designers to use to fill those empty shelves in customer’s homes where they wanted to give the impression of being well-read without ever having to actually read a word.  All the books sold.  It made a few shekel’s, but more importantly didn’t require room at a landfill.  I was thrilled.

Carolyn Elefant inquired the other day in her Legal Blog Watch post whether ties will go the way of the law library.

First, it was typewriters, then law libraries and bike couriers.  Now, it seems that neckties are destined for this growing heap of law firm and business accoutrements rendered obsolete by 21st century trends.

As the Denver Post reports, sales of neckties are declining, down from a $1.3 billion peak in 1995, to less than $678 million during the 12 months ending March 31.  And according to a Gallup Poll in 2007, only six percent of men wore ties to work daily. 

Let me first say that I don’t wear a tie to work daily.  I may be a dinosaur, but I’m not stupid.  My days of wearing a white shirt and tie to match my blue or gray suit ended long ago.  But when I go to court, I will wear a necktie.  Not an ascot or bow tie.  No open collar.  A necktie.  And I will do so as long as I stride into a courtroom as an attorney.

I realize full well that many have nothing but disdain for the “uniform” of dinosaurs, like the yoke of slavery around the neck of the oppressed.  It’s hot.  It’s tight.  It’s uncomfortable.  It’s uncool. 

The “issues” that the casual have with the uniform are all true.  But I will not give it up.  I do not want to give it up.  It is part of the mantle of office of a member of the bar, an officer of the court, a professional.  Even the suffering is important to me.  It reminds me that the privilege of being an attorney does not come without some suffering, some small degree of discomfort.  If I can’t tolerate this minor discomfort, how could I possible withstand the pressure of my duty. 

The plain truth is that I like wearing a necktie.  I like the way I look and feel in a suit and tie.  If American barristers wore robes and wigs, which I understand to be remarkably unpleasant and itchy, I would probably like it too.  These trappings of office may be laughable to a generation that views propriety as a burden, and sees no reason to suffer anything that they can possibly avoid, but they are the uniform of choice to me.

I’m sure that I seem downright irrational to the Slackoisie, who still can’t fathom why flip-flops shouldn’t be de rigor in Biglaw.  Well, my dear children, I can live with your ridicule and derision.  I refuse to live in a world where everyone dresses like they are prepared to dig ditches or go to the beach.  Whether you should ever feel this way or not, I will continue to wear a necktie, and will do so proudly.

9 comments on “The Ties That Bind

  1. Bad Court Thingy

    Even though I’m a member of the Slackeoisie generation, I always, always wear a necktie when go to court or when I meet with a client. I hate the tie, but I wear it.

    My reasoning is that I’m a young lawyer, and I look young for my age. People are more inclined to take my seriously if I look the part. Even if I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, I still look more like a lawyer than the attorney who showed up with no tie and an open collar.

  2. JR

    Like Bad Court Thingy, I am a young lawyer (27) and I wear a tie in court and when meeting with clients . . . and for the same reasons. But, I don’t at all mind wearing a tie when it is appropriate to do so. Like Scott, I like the way I look and feel in a suit and tie. I like walking into a courthouse looking like I am there for business. As far as I am concerned, I hope the suit and tie remains the uniform of American lawyers for years to come.

  3. Daille

    Sure you’d like the wigs and robes? First of all you’d have to get rid of the tie my friend because the robes (wigs are for judges) go with white collar tabs and no they aren’t uncomfortable just flimsy and tricky to tie at the back of your neck. But you’d also have to get rid of the notion of being the model of sartorial elegance because the rattier the robe the stronger the message: There goes a senior barrister probably a QC, a seasoned litigator who knows his stuff so tread lightly for you are in the presence of greatness :-)

  4. WL

    Man, I thought this post was gonna be about the cost of maintaining hardbound private law libraries. Instead it’s yet another screed about the so-called slackeoisie. Lay off already, it’s getting old and ad hominem, fast.

    By the way, as another slackeoisie lawyer, for the record I wear a tie every day and generally stay at work about an hour more than just about everyone else in my practice section.

  5. SHG

    Has it occurred to you that while you may be “of the age,” you may not be a class member?  It’s really not about ad hominem at all, but a challenge to be better together with a gentle slap in the face.  Some, perhaps you, have already figured this out.

  6. Dee White

    Hey, I’m doing exactly what the author is — trying to get rid of some great and great-looking books. The 10 at a time on ebay sounds like a decent idea but here’s a question–how much did they cost to ship? I tried putting all my Lawyers Edition second on ebay, and they not only didn’t sell but one nice lawyer told me I was way underestimating the shipping cost. Any ideas?

  7. dee

    Uh, thanks, man, you’re cool. That’s what I want to do, invest in a large scale scale.

    I was actually hoping someone had an alternate idea to shipping for four trillion dollars. Called a local jail to give–waiting for call back.

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