Dress the Part–Or Should we?

As summer is (finally) upon us, many people inevitably turn to lighter and more casual attire.  Gone are the wool layers and turtlenecks to stave off the chills, and in come cotton classics, short sleeves, and summer dresses.  It occurs to me that this most-welcome warm season is mostly irrelevant to the lawyer’s workday attire.  Or is it?

There is an abundance of material written on what lawyers should wear in court, including many thoughtful (see http://leanlitigation.typepad.com/) and amusing (see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/18/nyregion/18lawyers.html?_r=0) articles on why lawyers wear what they do in court.  There is general agreement – this writer included –that there is an appropriate attire for lawyers in court.

But what about out of court attire for, say, client meetings?  Should corporate litigators like us always play it safe with (the often warmer, sweat-inducing) courtroom attire to conform to the “expected image”?  Or is the donning of the suit-uniform unnecessary or, worse, distancing for some clients?  That is, are we more likely to connect with our clients, or many of them, (and accordingly, be more effective) out of uniform?

The answer may well be one commonly uttered in the law:  It depends.  We are in a service profession, and so what allows us to work most effectively with our clients?

As one Silicon Valley litigator/blogger recently noted: “Thinking about a dress code is tantamount to thinking about your clients.”  See http://abovethelaw.com/2013/06/from-biglaw-to-boutique-dress-code/.  So, summer or not, consider the client at issue and dress for effectiveness.  Even if, on occasion, it means a little more sweat.

P.S.  This post intentionally avoids parsing what is appropriate attire for female versus male lawyers, whether in court or otherwise.  I dare not open that can of worms.

— Michele Stephen

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