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Should Lawyers Be Seen in Jeans?

by Carolyn Elefant on September 13, 2011 · 8 comments

in Fashion & Lifestyle, Practice Tips

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This week’s  fashion column just went up and it’s already generating some controversy.  A couple of readers have asked whether a column on jeans reflects my view that denim is suitable attire for female (and presumably male) lawyers.  To be honest, it never occurred to me that a post on jeans might be viewed as license to wear them everywhere.  After all, past  fashion columns have discussed outfits of all varieties.  Some are suitable for court, others for the office and still others for even more informal situations like spending the day a at CLE, working in the office on a weekend or casual Friday.  I assume that my readers have the judgment to decide what’s appropriate.

Still, for those interested, I personally do not endorse  wearing jeans to meet clients and absolutely never, ever for court (I’m so conservative on court dress that I only started wearing pants to court — and still don’t for my rare jury appearances — after Hilary Clinton made them respectable for professional occasions.)  On the other hand, what’s even worse than jeans in my view is suggestive clothing in the workplace –  tight pants, thigh high skirts or low cut shirts – which are not only unprofessional but can make many clients uncomfortable. (I’m being mocked for that on Twitter but I see it all the time. Once when I was in court, I confused a suit-clad student trainee for the lawyer, and the big hoop earring, short-skirted professor-adviser for the client)

I know that there’s always an ongoing debate over dress between three different camps:  “I’ll dress how I want,” “formal dress only” and “my clients don’t mind my jeans.”  So where do you fall on this continuum and why?  Comments are open below.

  • shg

    My clients are deeply offended when I wear low cut shirts. It’s completely understandable.

  • FC

    well I wear jeans and polos when I have work at the office without clients (legal reasearch day, billing, etc…) I never wear jeans to meet someone, but I’ll wear them all the time when I know I won’t meet clients at the office. I keep an extra suit, shirt and tie in my office if I need to change for “an emergency”

  • http://tammyheff.wordpress.com Tammy H.

    Jeans don’t belong in a professional setting. Period. I agree that I usually wouldn’t even wear pants to court, it is just seen as less than professional in my opinion. Doesn’t mean that on your own time you can’t wear jeans, but seriously folks, not in a professional setting. 

  • http://rosenbergrosenberg.com Jeffrey Rosenberg

    I’ll always wear a suit and tie to the office if I’m meeting a client, or conducting a deposition or a closing.  Other times, I’m ”business casual,” but the only time I’ll wear jeans to the office is in extremely bad weather or if I have to be there on the weekend.  As for court, the lesson was driven home when I was out of law school for 2 or 3 years and had to argue for a TRO on a Friday before a holiday weekend.  In all fairness, my adversary (probably 15 years my senior) had only received notice of the application a few hours earlier, but he appeared for argument in an open-collared shirt and slacks.  The judge, who tended to be less formal herself (didn’t always wear a robe on the bench, etc.), opened the argument by asking my adversary “Are you an attorney?”

  • http://rosenbergrosenberg.com Jeffrey Rosenberg

    I’ll always wear a suit and tie to the office if I’m meeting a client, or conducting a deposition or a closing.  Other times, I’m ”business casual,” but the only time I’ll wear jeans to the office is in extremely bad weather or if I have to be there on the weekend.  As for court, the lesson was driven home when I was out of law school for 2 or 3 years and had to argue for a TRO on a Friday before a holiday weekend.  In all fairness, my adversary (probably 15 years my senior) had only received notice of the application a few hours earlier, but he appeared for argument in an open-collared shirt and slacks.  The judge, who tended to be less formal herself (didn’t always wear a robe on the bench, etc.), opened the argument by asking my adversary “Are you an attorney?”

  • http://constructionlawva.com constructionlaw

    Jeans can be appropriate in the right circumstances.  I agree that never to court or for an office meeting with a client.  However, as a construction attorney, I would look silly in a suit  at a sporting clay shoot or some visits to a construction site.  Most of the time my clients seem more comfortable with me in business casual than in a suit.  In any event, it is up to a lawyer to determine client comfort level and appropriateness for a certain level of dress.

  • Mark C. Metzger

    Stanley Milgram’s work makes clear that people (including lawyer’s clients) are more likely to accept direction and act on instructions (perhaps, therefore, even take advice) from someone dressed consistently with an authoritative role.  That says to me that it’s likely to be easier to meet with clients when NOT wearing jeans, in the sense that you’re better able to convey and carry authority.

    Perhaps putting this in a different context helps:  I don’t want to hear from a jeans-wearing doctor the plans for a surgical intervention, unless s/he’s just come in to the Emergency Room at 2am.  It’s easier to accept his/her medical opinions when s/he is cloaked in scrubs than in jeans at 1:30 pm.  At some level, it’s about just playing the role, but it’s really just about respect.

  • http://www.corinnetampas.com Corinne A. Tampas

    It depends. I once sat on a jury for a personal injury lawsuit. The injury was the result of the plaintiff, from Beverly Hills, California, falling off a horse at a dude ranch. The defendant was the dude ranch.

    Plaintiff and his lawyer showed up in very well tailored suits. Defendant’s attorney wore worn, but polished, cowboy boots and a tattered cowboy style suit.

    The jury hated the plaintiff and his attorney, and felt emphathy for defendant’s attorney. It was so obvious that the plaintiff dropped the lawsuit before the defendant even put on its case. Afterwards, the judge asked the jurors why they seemed to dislike plaintiff so much. Several jurors said it was obvious that plaintiff and his lawyer were “looking down” at the small town where the case was held. (It was the same small town that the Michael Jackson child molestation trail was held.)

    Moral of my story re dress: know your audience (jury). Same with clients. Depending on the locale and the practice area, a client might be very put off with someone “over dress”, even if that means just putting on a tie and sport coat.

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