Lawyers don’t wear the uniform in court because it’s got magical powers, but because we represent clients, actual human beings who have placed their lives and fortunes in our hands, and we don’t detract from the duty to do our best on their behalf by being self-indulgent. If judges and juries expect and respect lawyers who dress the part, it’s a small price to pay for the honor of being entrusted with the lives of others.
Except in Florida, during a pandemic, on Zoom.
Sweatpants and T-shirts may be the uniform for the new work-at-home workforce.
But if you’re a lawyer in Broward County, a judge wants you to avoid dressing down for tele-court appearances.
If you want to draft motions in your skivvies, go for it. But if you’re doing a hearing, Judge Dennis Bailey has some advice for you.
One comment that needs sharing and that is the judges would appreciate it if the lawyers and their clients keep in mind these Zoom hearings are just that: hearings. They are not casual phone conversations. It is remarkable how many ATTORNEYS appear inappropriately on camera.
We’ve seen many lawyers in casual shirts and blouses, with no concern for ill-grooming, in bedrooms with the master bed in the background, etc. One male lawyer appeared shirtless and one female attorney appeared still in bed, still under the covers. And putting on a beach cover-up won’t cover up you’re poolside in a bathing suit. So, please, if you don’t mind, let’s treat court hearings as court hearings, whether Zooming or not.
Granted, the olden days when a lawyer would cut his lawn wearing a three-piece suit, because he was still a lawyer, are gone. But shirtless? In bed? Poolside in your cover-up as if the judge can’t tell you’re in a bathing suit underneath?
No doubt someone will argue that it should be the substance of their argument, the passion of their plea, that matters, and not the clothing they wear (or don’t wear, as the case may be). After all, what judge isn’t impressed by your on-point citation uttered with the covers pulled up around your neck?
The rationale for looking like a lawyer, for dressing in a manner that reflects some modicum of respect for the court, the client and yourself, isn’t nearly as convincing to young lawyers as it was to old-timers. I get the argument. Maybe Judge Bailey gets it too. But what we also get is that it’s not about you, your feelings about the worthiness of wearing a tie or even pants when conducting a remote hearing, but your client. As long as it matters to the judge, even if the judge is dumb, old and wrong, then do it.
Not because it comports with your personal philosophy of attire, but because your client comes first and, well, no judge wants to see your bare chest.
And whether this is purely a Florida phenomenon is unknown for the moment, as no other judge has come forward to note that experiences in Zoom hearings are less than appropriate. But this shouldn’t happen anywhere. If you can’t be bothered to look like a lawyer, then you have no business representing clients, in person or on the computer. This isn’t too much to ask.