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In Case You Had Not Heard… Legal Proceedings are Serious Events

by Rebekah Smith

Over the last few weeks, you’ve likely heard the story of Chad Johnson (the football player formerly known as Chad Ochocinco) who proclaimed his remorse at not taking his courtroom proceedings seriously.  He stated that he had “learned [his] lesson, especially over those past seven days” (the seven days referring to the seven days he spent in jail.)  Johnson landed in jail after slapping his attorney on the backside in court a few weeks ago and had previously put his arm around a female prosecutor’s shoulders.

Interestingly, about the same time, I read an article about a judge ordering female attorneys to wear jackets “with sleeves below the elbow” in the courtroom.  The judge’s complaint was that female attorneys were “showing too much skin” (by wearing sleeveless attire and golf shirts) while defending their clients.  In the article, a female attorney was quoted in support of the judge’s stance but also acknowledged this is a “delicate issue.”  Lest you think this judge is enforcing a dress-code for female attorneys only, he had previously fined male lawyers for not wearing a suit coat inside his courtroom.

Both of these incidents make me think back to some of the training I’ve attended and some that I teach.  Court proceedings are serious and plaintiffs, defendants and witnesses should act and dress accordingly.

Part of presenting information as an expert witness is ensuring that you are attired appropriately.  Non-verbal behavior can affect one’s credibility just as much as verbal behavior.  Courtrooms are typically a conservative arena and your attire (and behavior) should show respect for the parties, the judge and the proceedings.  Even as a self-confessed shoe lover (check previous blog posts here), I wear conservative shoes in court and leave my “flashier” ones for another day.  As an expert, you should be noticed for what you have to say, not what you were wearing (good or bad).  This article provides some good reminders and basic “Do’s and Don’ts”.

Do you have any tried and true Do’s or Don’ts for courtroom behavior and dress you’d like to share?  Do you have any stories of how an attorney’s, witness’s or even a juror’s dress and behavior impacted a trial?  Share them in the comments section below.

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