Going to Court

25 04 2008

Ah court. A symbol of justice, the litigator’s Holy Grail, and the setting of so many acclaimed television dramas. Courts not only form the core of the American legal tradition but hold an iconic place in American society as a whole. And if we learned anything from Judge Larry Seidlin in the Anna Nicole Smith case, it’s that court is awesome.

But what are you going to wear?

Suit Up. For those who are unfamiliar, court tends to be a pretty formal place. There are tight security systems, strict rules of procedure, judges in flowing robes, and gavels. Out of respect to the court, attorneys are expected to wear suits at all times when in the courtroom. Whether you are responsible for giving an impassioned closing statement to a jury or a third-string trial attorney who spends most of game time on the bench, the suit is required.

Some Caveats

1) Just Visiting. If you are visiting a court for entertainment (or education) and plan to spend the whole time sitting in the back, then nice business causal will suffice. Wear nice shoes, slacks (or a knee length skirt) and a sweater or collared shirt.

2) You’re Not Working as a Lawyer. Another exception to the suit rule is if you are working for a court or a court-related agency but are not working as a lawyer. If, for example, you work for child services or in the court intake office, the rule of thumb for the courtroom is usually conservative business casual (at least in the courts where I’ve worked). The actual office you work in may be less formal, even if it’s in the courthouse, but you should dress more formally on days where you know you will be before a judge.

3) Define “suit.” While attorneys are required to wear a suit to court, the combination of clothing that is considered a suit depends on who you work for and what kind of court you are in. By way of example, I knew several attorneys working in legal services that went into housing court on a regular basis wearing flowing black pants, a black T-shirt and a gray blazer. I’ve also heard of some Public Defenders offices with a similar style. So matching—not always necessary. It’s not that I’m recommending this look, but FYI you can save the Armani for SCOTUS.

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