If your lawyer brings a grocery bag as a briefcase, you are going to jail

Do the clothes make the lawyer?

The internet is razzing a one of the lawyers for the GOP at Trump’s impeachment. Not because the lawyer has perjured himself, bumbled a statement, or proved ineloquent. Rather, the meme world does not like his bag lady look. When the Republican lawyer, Steve Castor, walked into the hearing to testify before the U.S. House of Representative’s Judiciary Committee he carried documents and materials in a reusable Fresh Market grocery bag. I don’t really care about this guy’s grocery bag, but a discussion on Facebook brought up a topic I have thought some about: lawyer appearance. It is my opinion that lawyers should dress the part. And what is an outfit without the proper accessories?

Does a nice suit make you smarter? No, of course not. Does a fresh high-dollar haircut make your arguments more organized? Don’t be absurd. The Facebook discussion asked, I think rhetorically, how does a bag have anything to do with his legal acumen?

Attorneys Should Use Every Tool to Persuade

In essence, a lawyer is a persuader. Vision is the dominant sense of humans. The perception an audience (judge, jury, opposing counsel) has of a lawyer can greatly affect persuasion (Ethos, Pathos, Logos). “People perceive a person’s competence partly based on subtle economic cues emanating from the person’s clothing, according to a study published in Nature Human Behaviour by Princeton University. These judgments are made in a matter of milliseconds, and are very hard to avoid.” (Woodrow Wilson School). Perceived competence makes establishing Ethos much simpler. How does a lawyer communicate competence before opening their mouth? Nonverbal communication.

Nonverbal communication can be categorized into eight (maybe 10) types: space, time, physical characteristics, body movements, touch, paralanguage, environment, and artifacts. Artifacts are physical objects, such as clothing, jewelry, and accessories (briefcases) that indicate to others a person’s personal and social beliefs and habits. Carefully selecting your “artifacts” should be made a part of your persuasion tactics. Otherwise, you are missing an opportunity (maybe slight) to move your audience.

The most fundamental rule for controlling your appearance for legal advocacy:

What does your appearance say about you as a lawyer?

You do not want jurors or prosecutors doing the math of how many drug dealers it takes to pay for a lawyer’s Corthay collection. Many lawyers have made remarks about my watch. Someday I may upgrade to a modest Rolex or something. For years though, I have worn a Timex. (I know, I’m a hypocrite.) Following the advice of a mentor, my intention is to communicate: (1) I am not one of those flashy, slick defense lawyers; and (2) Time is important to me, so I will not waste yours. Choosing your artifacts is not about money or extravagance. It is about being deliberate in all of your communication.

Do I always dress to impress? Unfortunately, no. But thankfully I have a stylish spouse that keeps my closet appropriately stocked. I usually try to dress to send the right message. I encourage other lawyers to be intentional about choosing their artifacts. I fully expect this post will generate a fair amount of hazing from my colleagues. When I am in court tomorrow, I’ll be sure my socks match my tie.


This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.