Lately, we have received several questions from male clients regarding jurors’ impressions of beards. Do they make an attorney look more distinguished? Does a beard add credibility or hurt it?
Jurors have many cues to use when evaluating the credibility of an attorney, and physical appearance is certainly one of those cues. So, based on the external research and our own exit interviews with mock and actual jurors, we offer the following answers to these beard related questions.
Caveat – All Beards Are Not Equal
We can’t start a discussion about beards in the courtroom without stressing the importance of professionalism. If an attorney is considering a long “wizard” beard (e.g., Duck Dynasty-type beard), or a beard paired with a nifty handlebar mustache, he might want to think twice.
And while the fullness of one’s beard tends not to be a cosmetic choice, the truth is that a noticeably patchy beard isn’t ideal, either. Some men’s beards just don’t grow in evenly; it isn’t fair, but that’s how it goes.
Ultimately, anything outside of the usual bounds of convention and decorum tends to undermine credibility and cause jurors to take an attorney less seriously. This is not to say that unconventional facial hair is outright prohibited. But just as we’d advise caution to an attorney who is considering wearing cuff links (this tends to distance attorneys from the jurors), we’d recommend against facial hair that falls outside the norm. Unless the man can carry it, it’s not a worthwhile gamble.
One blog article reproduced a subjective (not at all scientific) scale of different beards and their associated trustworthiness.
Consideration should also be given to the time it takes to grow a beard. As jurors have told us in post-trial interviews, they view stubble, the stage before facial hair becomes recognizable as a beard, as unprofessional. An attorney should make sure he has enough time before trial to grow his beard past the stubble stage.
A Well-Kept Beard Might Increase Credibility
So you’ve heeded our caveat and decided to go with a conventional, well-kept, full beard. Good choice. Here’s what we know:
Over the years, researchers have done numerous studies about the ways beards are perceived. Unfortunately, much of this research has produced inconclusive or contradictory results. Some studies have focused on the extent to which people find men more or less attractive with facial hair. For example, one study from a few years ago found that women rated men with beards as more attractive than their clean-shaven counterparts. However, a recently published study found the opposite was true.
The subject of trustworthiness has been similarly inconclusive. Some research (Journal of Marketing Communication, 2011, Vol. 17 (1)) suggests an appropriate beard can increase credibility. At the same time, our own mock juror research, for example, showed no difference in credibility scores. While reinforced by our exit interviews, we also were conducting two, one-day mock trials. We had the same male speaker present both days – and had different jurors each day. We found that the presence or absence of a beard did not impact the attorney’s credibility. His advocacy did.
To Beard or Not to Beard? A Question of Comfort & Confidence
Where does that leave us? Assuming your choice is between no beard and a well-kept, conventional beard, then the most important factors are actually your own comfort and confidence.
First, comfort is vitally important for a trial attorney. An attorney will be in front of jurors for eight hours a day – in some cases for weeks at a time. During trial is a bad time to do something to make yourself uncomfortable. One of our clients told a story about how, a few weeks before trial, he had gotten poison ivy on his face and felt he had no choice but to cover up the rash with facial hair. As it turned out, however, he then had to try his case with not only the discomfort of the rash, but also the itchiness of the new beard. In this instance, it probably would have been better for him to simply tell jurors of his predicament right at the start of trial, so they could account for his constant scratching.
Second, as any trial attorney knows, confidence affects performance. Jurors can see a lack of confidence a mile away. To the extent that growing a beard or shaving a beard reduces confidence, it should be avoided. To the extent that it increases confidence, go for it.
It’s worth noting that one of the few common threads in the wonderful world of beard research is that beards tend to make a man look older. As such, this can be a good thing for a particularly young attorney as it may increase jurors’ perception that he is competent and experienced. Moreover, if the young attorney feels more confident (e.g. less self-conscious about his age) with a beard, jurors will see and feel that confidence.
By contrast, one of our veteran clients reported that after 20 years of wearing a beard, he decided to shave it on a whim. For weeks following he said he felt “naked” without his beard and soon grew it back.
The bottom line here is that, as long as keep your look conventional and professional, you’re free to make whichever facial-hair choice will help you perform your best. Just try to figure out your preference in advance, so you don’t find out the hard way during trial. If you’re comfortable in a beard and feel confident with it, by all means keep it – especially if shaving it will make you feel “naked.” Our advice: Don’t be naked in front of jurors; make the choice you’ll feel good about.
By: John Wilinski, M.A. – Consultant