TBA Law Blog

Posted by: William Haltom on Feb 25, 2009

Journal Issue Date: Mar 2009

Long-time readers of this silly column (and you know who you are) know how I feel about how we lawyers should dress. I believe that every problem now faced by the American legal profession " tort reform, the decline in civility, Alberto Gonzales " has been caused by the advent of "casual day" at law firms throughout our once well-dressed nation.

When I started practicing law back during the Carter administration, lawyers knew how to dress. We wore dark conservative suits throughout the fall, winter and spring, and then we shifted to seersucker (the Matlock look) in the summer.

We didn't just wear suits. We wore ties. Even female lawyers wore ties in the '70s and '80s, although they tended to be nice little silk scarves tied like bow ties. (Check out Debra Winger when she was practicing law with Robert Redford in the '80s flick, "Legal Eagles.")

Even our feet were dressed for success. We didn't wear sneakers or "Ugg boots" or Gucci loafers. No, 30 years ago, all lawyers wore either cowboy boots (for plaintiff's lawyers) or wingtips (for defense lawyers). And the female lawyers wore either cowgirl boots or wingtip pumps. And the shoes were immaculately shined.

But sometime back during the Clinton administration, some unkempt lawyer or bidnessman in a wrinkled suit came up with a terrible idea. He decided that one day each week would be designated "casual day," and that everybody could show up for work looking like they were about to go play golf.

Unfortunately, casual day expanded to casual week, and then to casual month, and now to casual year. Worse, even the low sartorial standards for casual day were lowered. Lawyers stopped showing up for work looking like they were going to play golf. The golf shirts and khakis and unshined penny loafers, as bad as they were, were replaced by tank tops, shorts and flip-flops.

It was as if Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson started showing up in law firms all across America to perform mass acts of wardrobe malfunction.

Well, behold, brothers and sisters! I bring you good fashion tidings of joy and cheer! According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, law firms across America are now ending so-called "business casual" days, and insisting that their lawyers actually get dressed for work.

Yes, my friends, law suits are making a comeback. And shoe shines too.

It's like that great scene in "My Cousin Vinnie," when Judge Herman Munster tells Vinnie, "The next time you appear in my court, you will ... wear a suit and tie. And that suit had better be made out of some sort of cloth."

Law firms are not only re-instituting dress codes. So help me, they are even hiring wardrobe consultants. In Nashville, Mila Grigg of MODA Image Consulting will come to your firm "and meet with and address your associates, partners and staff in order to educate them on the value of appropriate professional attire." It is sort of continuing fashion education, particularly for all the yute lawyers in your firm who unfortunately resemble Vincent Gambini.

Some lawyers insist that it makes no difference how we dress. The important part is how we work. But to borrow a line from the great legal philosopher Forrest Gump, sloppy is as sloppy does. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think a lawyer in a tank top and speedos thinks as clearly as a lawyer in a pin-striped suit. And even if he does, I don't want to see him.

If you don't think it is important to dress for work, I ask you to consider this, ladies and gentlemen of the fashion jury. Suppose next September you take your seat in Neyland Stadium for the Tennessee Vols' season-opener against the Western North Dakota Fighting Anteaters. The Pride of the Southland Marching Band forms the giant "T," and the Vols come racing onto the field, wearing not their orange and white uniforms, but tank tops, cut-off blue jeans, and John Deere tractor caps turned backwards. And when you ask the fan next to you why the Vols aren't dressed for success, he replies, "Haven't you heard? Coach Lane Kiffin says uniforms aren't important. He has declared Saturdays to be 'casual days'!"

Well, you would be outraged. You would probably even blame Ed Orgeron.

No, to borrow a line from the great legal philosopher O. Henry, clothes make the lawyer.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to get my wingtips shined by my firm's wardrobe consultant.

Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.