Short Take: Dress For Success, Florida Lawyers

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.

15 thoughts on “Short Take: Dress For Success, Florida Lawyers

  1. Hunting Guy

    Shakespeare.

    “Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
    But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
    For the apparel oft proclaims the man,…”

    1. David Meyer-LIndenberg

      Yeah, Shakespeare, but Polonius. There really ought to be a word in the English language for “aphorism that’s undermined by the person who first said it.” Another great candidate would be “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

      1. SHG Post author

        Isn’t there a long German word for old man blowhard who gives simplistic advice no one asked for?

        Oh wait, never mind.

  2. Jeff

    In my job, we’ve had the option to work remotely ever since a crisis forced us out of our offices several years ago. We brought Google Hangouts video chat into the mix to improve communications, and it’s proven a boon. We had this exact discussion when some colleagues would show up to work (remotely) in a ball cap and hoodie, vaping clouds so thick you couldn’t see the HAM radio shit clogging the shelves in their home offices. Fun is fun and you’re at home, but if a director, VP or EVP needs to join the bridge and sees your idea of professionalism, that’s potentially a Career Limiting Move.

    What gets me is the mentality that even seems to saturate the 50-somethings down to the millenials. “I’m in my home. What business is it of yours how I dress?”

    I don’t know the solution, but a round of layoffs might wake people up. True, lawyers hang their own shingles but even law offices here are feeling the pinch and laying off anyone who’s not a partner or a partner’s assistant. It’s a tough time to stick your neck out right now, even if one is in an “essential service,” one’s self may not be.

  3. Earl Wertheimer

    If this goes on, I expect a brisk business in video add-ons that would superimpose your face onto a more suitable background. Instead of a ‘Cat-Face Filter’, you could go for the full ‘House of Lords Wig and Waistecoat’.
    Imagine the possibilities…

    1. SHG Post author

      I wonder how many are doing that cat ear thing now? I bet someone is. Maybe they just forgot to turn the filter off?

      1. LocoYokel

        how many share the computer with tweenie girls?

        I bet you will find the Venn diagram is a near perfect 100% overlap

  4. John Barleycorn

    Here is an idea for your book:

    Each chapter revolves around wrist watches by decade of acquisition. Those feelings leap frogging with any particular watch and why. Perhaps a few will interweave with lesson learned, and unlearned. Perhaps a few are constant reminders of the duty within the guild.

    Weave bitch.. It is the least you can do if you continue to insist on laboriously aggregating! Do you even dream anymore?

Comments are closed.