The age-old advice: “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up for work and life!” may be worth remembering as more legal professionals participate in virtual environments due to the COVID-19 mandated court closures.
Virtual court hearings, mediations, and meetings are taking place. Attorneys and legal educators have adapted to changes in how we meet clients and students by utilizing Blackboard Collaborative, Zoom, Cisco WebEx, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet/Hangouts, and Skype. Do such changes in our ways of meeting and communicating-within the virtual environment-bring with them a corresponding change in expectations of what is appropriate attire for the practice of law?
Enclothed Cognition is a term coined by Hajo Adam and Adam D. Galinsky, two cognitive psychologists at Northwestern University. Galinsky asserts “It has long been known that clothing affects how other people perceive us, as well as how we think about ourselves.” In their study, they “examin[ed] the psychological and performance-related effects that wearing specific articles of clothing have on the person wearing them.”
Customs and traditions are woven into the apparel of our courts in the United States. Most striking is the clothing, the long black robes worn by the nine Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and judges in the federal and state courts in the United States, as they enter the courtroom and take the bench to preside over cases. The black robes of justice worn by the members of the U.S. Supreme Court dates back to the 1800s. Notable exceptions were Chief Justice John Jay, “wearing robes with a red facing” and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, adorning “his robe with four gold stripes on each sleeve.”
A court's authority to regulate an attorney's dress is partially based on statutory rules of conduct and ethics. For example, “The Dress Code” policies adopted by The New York City Law Department cautions that “Traditional business attire should be worn in all circumstances where it is customary to dress in that manner.” Judge Clifford R. Weckstein of Virginia begins a letter to lawyers about proper attire with a few lines from the movie My Cousin Vinny. Court: Mr. Gambini, didn’t I tell you that the next time you appear in my court that you dress appropriately? Counsel: You were serious about that?
Kansas City attorney Charles W. Gotschall cautions legal professionals to literally “not get caught with your pants down,” and asks us to imagine “sitting in a home office or dining room office, and the court hearing starts. What do you do when [the bailiff exclaims:] ‘All rise’ and you’re wearing shorts?”