Fashion, Federal Judges, Feminism, Gender, Judicial Divas, Women's Issues

Career Advice for Women Lawyers: Fake It.

Warning to the female readers of Above the Law: the reading of this post may lead to the rending of your inappropriate clothing and pulling out of your questionably-styled hair.

Earlier this month, lady lawyers gathered in Philadelphia for the ABA’s Women in Law Leadership Academy. Gina Passarella of the Legal Intelligencer was in attendance and reported on a session featuring esteemed female judges offering advice to their trial lawyer counterparts (gavel bang: ABA Journal).

U.S. District Judge Norma L. Shapiro criticized women for being too timid in the courtroom. She said that “women lack the confidence that men seem to have.” Apparently the solution is the same one that women employ when they lack enthusiasm and confidence in certain other situations:

“You pretend. You fake it,” Shapiro said, adding that being prepared helps.

If faking confidence in the courtroom is as easy as feigning pleasure in the bedroom, perhaps many more women will soon be coming across as master litigators.

The judges had other advice. When a whole bunch of women get together, they just can’t help but complain about other women’s outfits and hair, after all….

Let’s get to the style part of the session:

[Northern District of Texas Judge Barbara M.G.] Lynn said years ago women would wear these bow ties to try to look like men. After [moderator Fernande “Nan”] Duffly pointed out for the audience listening via audio that Lynn was in red with a colorful floral shirt, Lynn took off her red high heel to show to the live audience — but she quickly followed that hers was not an outfit women should wear in the courtroom.

Looks like you can add red heels to your Fashion Don’ts list. Don’t throw them out, though. You could always pair them with black lingerie to make a convincing argument in the bedroom.

But in the courtroom, those red stilettos could punch a hole in your case!

Duffly said that, in surveying her fellow judges in Massachusetts, all said they never remembered a man’s outfit but did remember what a female lawyer wore, and usually for the wrong reasons.

Lynn said men wear uniforms, whereas women can go wrong with something too short or too low cut. The goal isn’t to be noticed for your outfit but for your argument. Shapiro said being disheveled or having a noticeable hairdo or piece of jewelry could also distract the jury from your argument.

How many times do we have to tell you? No mohawks in the courtroom, ladies.

While their clothing, hair, and jewelry may be too loud, women themselves are too quiet:

When [Shapiro] meets with the court’s summer interns, she asks for their name and where they go to school. She said the men will confidently say their first and last name and their law school where as women often barely utter their first names. She said she knows all of these women are smart or they wouldn’t have been hired, but said she’d never know it by hearing them talk.

“Speak so you can be heard,” she said.

Also, beware of the risks of a skirt suit:

One jury sent a note to Lynn asking that the female attorney at the end of the table keep her legs together. Lynn said the attorney was sitting inappropriately — so Lynn sent her law clerk to let the lawyer know.

These rules make you want to use your red stiletto to kill someone, but you need to bottle those emotions. If you are suffering at work because of your gender, it’s best to just keep your mouth shut about it, says former New York Chief Judge Judith Kaye:

Before becoming a judge, Kaye “endured” private practice for 21 years. When moderator Fernande “Nan” Duffly, an associate justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, asked Kaye how she succeeded while being an attractive woman with a soft voice and kids at home, Kaye said the secret is “agonizing privately.”

We know some of you may be sick of the Above the Law “How Women Fall Short” series. But until you learn to speak up (and not about your agony), be confident, wear non-distracting clothes and jewelry, do your hair right, exude confidence, eliminate all red shoes from your footwear collection, and convincingly fake the O-ral Argument face, we’re going to have to keep at you.

Faint Heart Never Won Fair Maiden a Big Court Case [Legal Intelligencer]
Women Lawyers Need to Exude More Confidence, Federal Judge Says [ABA Journal]

Earlier: Fashion Dos and Don’ts From the Windy City

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