I Could Be an Idiot, but You Would Never Know It Because I Look Good In a Suit
Me and the boys are out cruising downtown Saturday night in Traverse City Michigan. At 6:46, a guy is coming across the street. He has cropped well-groomed hair. His appearance is All-American, and he’s wearing a suit with a green accented tie and white stuffed shirt. As attorneys in Traverse City Michigan, we don't see nearly as many suits on attorneys and lawyers as most other places.
I immediately stopped the conversation which was occurring in the car to show the boys. It occurred to me they had never actually seen it before and had no idea. I pointed with my finger extended and said, “LOOK!”
This guy stood out for a number of reasons, not the least of which is we live in Traverse City where stuffed suits are few and far between. The bankers and the “high-end” lawyers definitely wear suits most all the time.
I explained to the boys in careful measured tones that I used to have to dress like that every day. I thought about the comfort of my jeans and my relaxed shirt and the black crocs I wore over socks because of the recent chilly weather. It even struck me that I spent almost a decade dressed almost every day in a suit and tie.
The guy looked pretty nice, but it occurred to me that the whole point of the suit and tie is to try and impress the client. If you put a whole bunch of suit and ties together in a room, the importance of the room increases numerically with the number of ties.
It also occurred to me that at least half of these people might very well be idiots, but you would never know because they have a fancy haircut and very nice suit. In a way, it’s outright fraud. There ought to be some sort of regulations that have to be met if you want to wear a suit, but that post is for another day. Me and the boys are going into Right Brain Brewery, play same games, drink some root beer and revel in the fact that their dad never wears a suit.
Geez, really? I think you go a little over the top here. A suit is the uniform for this profession. I'm a lawyer, it took a lot of work to get where I am in this business, and I am proud to wear the uniform. I like looking the part. I like looking sharp. I don't want a casual outfit to come between me and people taking me seriously. You say people shouldn't judge a book by its cover? Too bad, everyone does, at least at first. Do you wear your Crocs to Federal Court? I am in court or meeting clients daily, and the clients, judges, and potential clients expect a suit. Just like I expect my doctor to wear that white jacket with the embroidered name. Just like baseball players suit up, so do we. The suit does not mean we can avoid doing the job right. If it helps people take me seriously, then I think it is well worth the investment. My mentor in this business had a beard for a while, and shaved it before a jury trial. Everyone asked why he did it. He said, "I don't want someone in the jury focusing on my beard and not my closing argument, and I don't ever want the client to think 'maybe the jury didn't like the beard'." For years I've advised college mock trial students to lose the nose and tongue piercings and get some decent shoes for the courtroom. Not on their own time, mind you, just at trial (mock trial in their case). Why take a chance that your appearance might harm your chances? You never have to apologize for being early, overdressed, overprepared, or successful.
Posted by: R. Palmer | 2009.05.20 at 23:48
I should add that it is great to wear what you want in your office and in your practice. If it works for you, that is great. Unfortunately for me, I don't work in Traverse, but in the Chicago area, where the suit is more or less expected. Frankly I have always liked wearing suits (I know it may be hard to believe). The beauty of having your own shop is setting your rules. Nothing wrong with that and you have a right do it!
One thing also is the area of practice - some of our firm's attorneys dress in business casual because their corporate clients do the same and would feel put out by a guy in a suit. In my family law practice, the clients really do expect the suit in my experience. Eric, I always enjoy your blog and have followed it off and on since its inception. Also thanks for your tips on digital dictation, I have now switched and we love it.
Posted by: R. Palmer | 2009.05.21 at 12:41
Mr. Palmer is *kind of* right. I'm sure that Enrico goes into court wearing his "uniform."
However, only a certain class of clients like seeing their lawyer in a suit. In fact, I've found that many of my clients (in the entertainment and internet industries) prefer that I show up in nice jeans and a relaxed shirt. I do spend money on my shoes, which rounds out the message I'm trying to send. That message is "I don't take myself too seriously, but I know when and how to tighten things up." The best compliment I get is, "man, you don't look like a lawyer, and you sure don't act like one.... you're the guy we need."
Thinking inside the box is a time honored lawyer tradition. If it works for you, Palmer, then great. But, there is a whole generation of movers, shakers, and clients out there who reject your entire world view. You can have the other half of the world, I presume that from Enrico's (and my own) success, that dressing like "a lawyer," is not necessary.... or, better yet, we all dress "like lawyers," you just dress like one kind of lawyer, and we dress like another.
Posted by: Marc J. Randazza | 2009.05.21 at 14:07
Robert: Yes. I am a little exaggerated here. Sometimes, I am prone to exaggeration to make a point more strongly. Guilty as charged.
But my point is really that too many lawyers wear a suit to compensate for their otherwise low intellect. Law firms impose dress codes to disguise their lack of ability.
Of course in court it is suit and tie as usual. But at the office, I find it is not the client who expects a suit and tie. It is too often the law firm trying to justify their billing rates with a suit and tie.
The world is changing. I was in a settlement negotiation with a Fortune 200 company several weeks ago. No one was in a a suit in tie on our end. For the mega-company, the two outside lawyers were in suits and ties. No one else. Not general counsel. Not the top executive. Not the IT manager.
The lawyers stood out and were ultimately marginalized by their stuffy appearance. And at lest one of them was in fact an idiot, making his suit and tie little more than an outright fraud on everyone in the room.
Posted by: GAL | 2009.05.22 at 15:34
I agree. Character and ability are demonstrated through how you treat your clients, opposing counsel and your results. How you dress is not as important as how you act. I have dealt with attorneys who present themselves as friendly and respectful when face to face, only to find out that they are complete cowards, utterly lacking in character when your back is turned.
The suit, I agree is but a mask, true character, or the lack thereof, always reveals itself in the end.
Such is life.
Posted by: Bear | 2009.06.01 at 14:55
In Michigan, here's how it works: South of US-10, you dress to impress. In sales, and yes, media sales, suit and tie, or shirt & tie is the standard uniform.
Now NORTH of US-10, you walk into a small business with a suit and tie, the first thing that prospect does is HIDE THEIR WALLET! They spent a lifetime aquiring funds to start their enterprise, usually working for a place downstate where suits run rampant, lying, cheating and basically being ignorant pricks. And now, here comes a suit in YOUR place of business, telling you how he is going to "HELP" you? Usually, the suit is met with anything from stone-cold silence to open hostility.
Posted by: Tony | 2011.08.25 at 14:23