Law Students Spend a Day in Court

Seeing is believing and understanding. For the first time, I added to my Seattle University Law School Comprehensive Trial Advocacy course a requirement that the students spend a day watching a trial and write a report on what they observed and learned. The students went to different courts – federal, state and municipal. They reported on the skillfulness that some lawyers displayed and the ineptitude of others. Their experience in observing lawyers at work drove home points covered both in their class assigned readings, lectures and discussions about trial advocacy. It was a treat to read the observations of these novices, and here is one about the attorney’s appearance.

Student Tierney E. – Looking the Part

Student Tierney E. reported on her observations as follows: “I’m excited to see my first actual jury trial today. I’ve seen a lot of Mock Trial competitions, but never a real trial. I think this will be unbelievably helpful to me and will be and incredible chance to learn from watching attorneys. I’m in the federal district courthouse in Tacoma, and will be watching a civil jury trial in Judge Benjamin Settle’s courtroom.

“Speaking of which, I can’t help but notice that all four attorneys are male and white, which seems odd to me. I had hoped to see at least one woman litigating. The two parties involved are Ms. M_____ and ______ Insurance. Ms. M_______ is suing her insurance company, which did not pay her for one of her claims. As its defense, ____ (insurance company) claims that Ms. M_______ burned her own house down, and because of the arson, they aren’t required to pay her claim on the home.

. . .

“Looking the Part – How to Present Oneself as a Competent and Reliable Attorney

“It looks like defense counsel is wearing a tie with dogs on it, which makes it somewhat difficult for me to take him seriously. Maybe he is trying to negate the image many people have of insurance companies as big, bad corporations who don’t care about people, but I think he just ends up looking unprofessional.

“It makes me think about first impressions, and how your appearance might affect how the jury feels about you as a lawyer. I suppose this would also affect how the jury feels about your client and your case. I feel like dressing appropriately might be harder for women – men know to wear a dark suit, red tie, white shirt and you can’t go wrong. For women, there are more aspects to think about – makeup, hair, jewelry, etc. And the choices aren’t as clear- wearing plain black, but ugly or “sensible” shoes might affect how the jury thinks about you. On the other hand, wearing extremely high heels might also affect the jury’s impression of you as a lawyer.

“I recently read an article about professional women and makeup. The study asked the participants to look at three pictures of the same woman and decide which image made the woman look the most competent, reliable, and professional. The study found that when women wore some makeup (as opposed to no makeup, or a lot of makeup), they come across as more competent, reliable, and professional. So how much is too much? How much is enough? If wearing too much makes you seem flakey or unprofessional, and too little makes you look tired and unreliable (like you aren’t “put together”), how does a professional women strike the right balance? It annoys me that physical appearance can affect your efficacy as a lawyer so much, but it is a reality one must come to terms with.”