Whether women attorneys are guilty of poor fashion choices when it comes to courtroom attire was the topic of Part I of this post. (See Are Women Attorneys Being Stricken by a Pantsuit Pandemic). In this part, I propose what I believe is the “solution” to this problem.
What can and should be done about these fashion crimes?
There has been some suggestion that law schools should teach students about the dos and don’ts of fashion for their future career endeavors. I have to giggle a little when I hear that idea. Academia is going to be responsible for communicating fashion tips to the next generation? Oh, come on now, I don’t think there can be too many people who actually believe that this is a viable proposition. Even if schools were to outsource the subject and hire image consultants to teach a 1-credit class called “Appropriate Courtroom Attire,” standards will still vary by some degree based on geography and the courts in which you practice.
At the risk of being laughed out of town for my inflated sense of positivity, I’ll offer my suggestion to this serious problem. Each state’s bar association should draft a set of “Attire Guidelines,” which would then be incorporated into the bar-admission process.
In Delaware, bar candidates who have successfully based the bar exam cannot be sworn in until they complete a set of “Clerkship Requirements.” The requirements are what the bar association considers to be the absolute fundamentals of practicing in our State and the idea is that, after completing the requirements, no attorney will ever be totally lost when it comes to the operations of our court systems. Candidates have to attend various types of hearings in the different state courts and participate in a variety of litigation and transactional activities. For example, one of the requirements is that the candidate review the articles of incorporation for a Delaware-incorporated business. Similarly, candidates could be required to attest that they’ve reviewed the “Attire Guidelines.”
I don’t think it’s impossible, really. The toughest part would likely be reaching consensus on the guidelines. And even that can’t be too difficult. I mean, we’re not trying to craft a treatise on the issue, just a set of the most basic rules for dressing as a professional. For example, pick a hemline length and stick with it. Address the color issue–are red suits ok for women to wear to court or are all attorneys, regardless of gender, expected to wear dark colors when appearing before the court? And are open-toe shoes permissible? (No, no, no! I implore you!) I’d venture that consensus can be reached on these basic tenets.
Once there is a set of rules in place, attorneys would have no excuse that they “didn’t know any better.” Guidelines, standards, and rules are good things. We need structure. We’re lawyers–it’s our nature to come up with creative reasons why the standards don’t apply to us. If the standards are published to all, though, the leeway that comes with an unwritten rule disappears. I think it could work. Really.