Everyone wants to look their best when standing before a group of people, and lawyers are no exception. At trial, counsel is going to be getting up before the same group of people (the judge and jury) day after day and, understandably, wants to make a good impression. And effective impression management is important as research has shown appearance is an essential component of non-verbal communication. Humans make important judgments about other people very quickly based on their initial impressions of only a few seconds. Simply put, appearance counts.
Therefore, the question, “What should I wear in court?” is a valid and important one for counsel to consider. And the temptation is to wear one’s “nicest” clothes and accessories, including that expensive watch, cufflinks, diamond earrings or those designer shoes can be tempting. After all, they have been chosen for their quality and are very flattering! But the practice of some of the wisest and most successful attorneys we know is generally the best path to follow. For every trial, one of these attorneys takes off the gold Rolex watch he normally wears and substitutes a serviceable, non-branded watch for the entire time, while the other wears a pair of plain, functional heels purchased specifically for the context of her particular trial. Another female attorney we know takes off her solitaire diamond earrings and two-carat diamond engagement ring, leaving only her wedding band.
Wearing Attire That Connects with Jurors
Why is this practice of foregoing the bling and designer goods generally a good idea? It is because counsel’s primary goal is to connect with jurors as effectively as possible and anything that gets in the way of relating to the jurors can be a distraction. Jurors already come into court suspicious of what many perceive as “high attorney fees,” particularly for attorneys defending corporations. So clothing and accessories that are obviously expensive risk reinforcing an already existing negative stereotype. And it can inadvertently distance counsel from those jurors.
This is true because of a basic psychological principle called the similarity effect – we tend to like and find more believable people who are more like ourselves and to distrust those we view as too different. So the goal is to look professional but not so different from those who will decide your case. Fortunately, much of the advice on attire for lawyers is similar to the advice for witnesses (see our previous blog on Witness Attire). You want jurors to focus on what you are saying, not on what you are wearing. Attorneys should wear suits or other professional clothing, such as a sports coat and slacks in rural jurisdictions, and modest jewelry – a wedding ring and modest watch are appropriate. They should avoid wearing branded clothing, easily recognizable accessories or those with logos.
There is no such thing as a “second” first impression. Attorneys want to ensure their appearance doesn’t compete with or undermine their goal of connecting with their jurors by selecting clothing or accessories that create distance or the impression of dissimilarity. Choose wisely and you’ll keep jurors’ focus where it belongs – on your message.
By: Barbara Hillmer, Ph.D. – Senior Consultant