Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: One Size Does Not Fit All When It Comes to Courtroom Attire for Women
16 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2014
Date Written: January 15, 2010
Like it or not, physical appearance is a factor in the work of a trial lawyer, regardless of gender. Although empirical research suggests that immutable physical attributes may play a role in the jury’s perception of an individual, this essay addresses those aspects of appearance more easily subject to conscious selection and change, such as clothing, hair, shoes, and jewelry.
Over the years, a body of advocacy scholarship has developed around this topic, producing fairly consistent advice about “appropriate” dress for the courtroom. As a general proposition, the advice — for both men and women — can be reduced to some version of “dress conservatively, simply, and inconspicuously.” If this advised style of dress runs counter to the essence of a particular advocate’s persona — as subjectively understood or objectively perceived by others — is it sound?
In this essay, I examine the conventional wisdom on courtroom attire and question whether the cookie cutter “feminization” of conventional advice adequately accounts for gender differences in contemporary society. I conclude that conventional advice, if followed blindly, runs the risk of undermining the most valuable asset a female trial lawyer possesses: her credibility.
Keywords: trial practice, trial advocacy, lawyers, attorneys, gender, women lawyers, female lawyers, clothing, dress, appearance, stereotypes
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