According to a recent article in the ABA Journal, judges across the USA are cracking down on people who come to court wearing skimpy and sloppy clothing. Some courts have even instituted dress codes. After a woman came to court in her pajamas, a Delaware court adopted a dress code banning saggy pants, exposed undergarments, bare feet, curlers, gang clothes, muscle shirts, tank tops, halters, bare midriffs, and hemlines more than inches above the knee. Judges in Texas have banned excessive body piercings and tattoos, unless they are covered. Is this fair? Maybe not, but it doesn’t matter what I think. It’s the judge, not the lawyer, who will decide your fate.
I always encourage my clients to dress neatly and professionally for their day in court, regardless of whether the court has a “dress code.” Why? It’s simple. You are going to appear before a judge who holds your future in his or her hands. And that judge is human. All judges are trained to be impartial, and to apply the facts to the law in an effort to reach a fair result but, being human, each judge has a background and life experience which may color his or her perspective. Maybe your judge will focus strictly on the facts and won’t give a second thought to your appearance – but, on the other hand, maybe she or he will view your tee shirt and jeans as inappropriate and a form of disrespect for the judicial process.
When I was in law school and working during the summer as an intern at the Orange County Public Defender’s office, I saw how the manner in which a client dressed could affect the judge’s view of that person — and the final result. During my pre-trial interviews, I would suggest that the client dress neatly and appropriately for court. I often received a surprised or angry reply. “Why should it matter?” the client would ask. “This is me. Take it or leave it.” Here was my response: “You’re right. It shouldn’t matter. And to me it doesn’t. But I’m not the one who is judging you. Your future is at stake. And the person who is judging you – the one who holds your freedom in his hands – may not feel the same way I do.”
Your clothing doesn’t need to be expensive, and you certainly shouldn’t try to dress “over the top” (you’re not walking down the red carpet at the Academy Awards). But a neat, professional, attire will send the message that you respect the court process. It will show that you care.
The impression you make on the judge counts, and your appearance is an important factor in forming that impression – so why take the chance?