Should Women Attorneys Wear Suits to Court?

by Fred Abramson on September 24, 2009 · 5 comments

It was a sultry Monday afternoon in New York City.  The scene: Honorable Jane S. Solomon New York Supreme courtroom in the “Law and Order Building” 60 Centre Street.   An attractive female attorney in her early 30’s, dressed in white pants, a black top and a carrying a large, expensive looking beach bag approached the bench for a conference.

60 Centre StI was dressed rather uncomfortably in a dark blue pinstriped Ralph Lauren wool suit, with a white DKNY shirt and light blue tie. And yes, my back was wet with perspiration from the 15 minute walk from my office to the courthouse. I was seated on a bench in the large mahogany courtroom waiting for my case to be called.

As the female approached the bench, the judge’s eyes opened wide, her face turned bright red and she  hollered something like:

Are you an attorney or are you appearing pro-se? How dare you disrespect my courtroom with what you are wearing. Obviously, you came from a day at the beach (probably the Hamptons). Where is your suit? Don’t ever come in my courtroom like this again.

My case was up next and the judge had an interesting conversation with us about her reaction to this female attorney. The judge was wondering why she was so angry.  Clearly, this attorney was dressed well.  Her clothes looked expensive. But in her opinion, they were not proper for the courtroom. Perhaps if she wanted to dine at Bouley her attire would be acceptable.  She then noted that the other women who were on my case were also not wearing suit jackets. She also wondered why she didn’t yell at them.

It is simple to discern whether a male attorney is dressed correctly for court, but what clothing is proper for women? Do you think the judge overreacted?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea Goldman September 25, 2009 at 4:16 am

Fred, my friends and I talk about this all the time. Boston is a conservative city and I know female lawyers who still won’t wear pantsuits to court. I draw the line at open toed shoes (never!) and ponytails (can you say I’m young and inexperienced?). I think the younger you are, the more you have to dress like a lawyer. Once one reaches a certain age, one can exercise a little more “flair” in dressing, but this does not mean cleavage, super short skirts, etc. Just as a man would not wear a polo shirt and khakis to court, if women want to be taken seriously, they should dress the part.

Fred Abramson September 25, 2009 at 4:23 pm

I agree with you Andrea. However, at times I wish that the court would be a bit more liberal for conferences where the parties appear before a law clerk.

I'd rather not say. May 18, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Judge Solomon yelled at me (an attorney) once for delivering papers to the Court and not wearing a suit while doing so. The tone was the same as posted hear on the blog.

I should have sent my secretary deliver the papers. Overall, I think she was out of line.

Jen Lupo July 27, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Perhaps Her Honor should recognize that the suit really has no place in the female wardrobe. It is a vestige of a misbegotten time during the onset of the feminist movement when women believed that they needed to appear more manlike to succeed in business, including law, and adopted the wearing them.

Dressing appropriately and wearing a suit are not mutually exclusive.

Johnsmith October 24, 2011 at 9:11 pm

agree with the judge.  As an officer of the court, a lawyer represents not only a litigant but the legal system.  Inappropriate attire is sending a non verbal message that the justice system is “casual” and not serious.  Part of the obligation of an attorney is to uphold the image of the judical system.

As an attorney representing a litigant, it is also inappropriate not to wear a suit. First of all, you jeopardize your credibility before the court and therefore jeopardize the outcome of the case.  Secondly, credibility requires that the attorney be seen solely in their role as counsel; otherwise you are sending mixed messages to the court and to the jury.  Female attorneys should not appear in sexualized apparel; and should wear suits.

Movie stars should dress sexily and call attention to their physicality; that is part of what they are selling: sexual charisma and attractiveness.  On the other hand, lawyers are “selling” something entirely different:  their ability to dissect information, read the law and persuade others on the basis of logical arguments.

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