In a Huffington Post op-ed, Redefining the Female Lawyer’s Uniform, Stacy Slotnick, an entertainment lawyer and founder of the Foxy Jurist, argues that lawyers should add some color to their courtroom arguments. Literally.
Slotnick isn’t talking about injecting imagery into an opening statement or pounding on the witness box to punctuate an argument or adopting a dramatic whisper to attract the jury’s attention. Instead, Slotnick implores female lawyers to cast aside their bland Gray Lady and Black Widow personas and embrace the hot pink of Legally Blonde. Or as Helen Reddy might sing, women lawyers should go from I am Woman, Hear Me Bore to I am Woman, Hear Me Roar!
Slotnick has some colorful words for colorless dressers:
My legal career has taught me traditional lawyer garb is profitless and provides a one-way ticket to dullsville. Conventional colors and structured garments should be prohibited at meetings and negotiations with influential people as well as in the courtroom.
If you blend in by wearing unexceptional colors and clothes, you and your argument will be faceless, meaning the person you are trying to persuade will regrettably not remember your face or the point you were attempting to make.
I don’t agree with Slotnick. When lawyers dress to express rather than impress, they hurt their clients. Bright clothes may make the lawyer memorable, as Slotnick suggests — but they also distract attention from the arguments, which are what matter most.
Dressing unconventionally is particularly detrimental for for solo practitioners and small-firm lawyers. Many judges buy into the stereotype that solos aren’t as smart or competent or focused as our Biglaw adversaries. So when we solos show up in court in inappropriate attire, we merely reinforce stereotypes that we don’t know what we’re doing, and worse, that we don’t care. Until judges start wearing rainbow-colored robes instead of plain black, lawyers are safest in adopting conservative clothing for the courtroom.
Finally, not only is Slotnick’s advice poor for solos, but her focus on what women wear and not men is downright sexist. After all, if colorful attire is good for the goose, why not the gander? And since I’m using animal analogies, it bears noting that in the animal kingdom, it’s often the male that’s the more dapper of the two genders.
Do you agree with Slotnick? Does standing out help or hurt lawyers when we stand up for our clients?
Carolyn Elefant has been blogging about solo and small firm practice at MyShingle.com since 2002 and operated her firm, the Law Offices of Carolyn Elefant PLLC, even longer than that. She’s also authored a bunch of books on topics like starting a law practice, social media, and 21st century lawyer representation agreements (affiliate links). If you’re really that interested in learning more about Carolyn, just Google her. The Internet never lies, right? You can contact Carolyn by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @carolynelefant.