Few in the legal community question the aphorism that “appearances matter.” They do. Rightly or wrongly, typos in a brief, tardiness, or other signs of inattention to detail are all impediments to successful representation of the client.
A lawyer’s attire can also promote, or detract from, professional success. A neat and professional personal appearance projects several winning attributes: trustworthiness, attention to detail, intellectual rigor, and respect for the law.
Professional attire considerations were simple not so long ago. Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck most legal business was transacted in discrete, well-understood environments: the law office, the courtroom, the client’s premises. While casual dress was permitted in many law offices, usually on days when there was little chance of interaction with clients, “professional attire” — a men’s business suit and the women’s equivalent — was widely seen as mandatory in all other settings, particularly the courtroom.
Today, while the profession operates within COVID-19 restrictions on in-person meetings, a large part of an attorney’s day takes place in virtual environments such as Zoom calls, videoconferenced court hearings and remote depositions. How should attorneys dress for online interactions? What new skills and conventions are necessary for lawyers to effectively serve clients in these new virtual settings? These are not trivial questions. Victory for the next generation of litigators may depend on the extent to which they can thrive in a mostly virtual professional arena.
This article looks at one particular professional setting, the remote deposition.
Will It Please the Court?
Inattention to proper attire during Zoom hearings has already drawn public criticism from the bench. In one well-publicized incident early in the COVID-19 pandemic, a trial court judge in Florida’s Broward County complained about an attorney who appeared shirtless, and another who appeared in bed under the covers, during videoconferenced hearings. The judge’s advice? “Please, if you don’t mind, let’s treat court hearings as court hearings, whether Zooming or not.”
Should attorneys dress for remote depositions the same way they dress for virtual court appearances?
Obviously, appropriate attire for a virtual court hearing is not necessarily the same as appropriate attire for a remote deposition that takes place outside of the courtroom. Nevertheless, attorneys should appreciate the possibility that video from a remote deposition could be used at trial where it will be seen by the judge, the jury, and the client. At trial, the judge will be robed and other courtroom personnel will either be in uniform or in business attire. A poorly dressed attorney will attract attention — in a bad way. Video evidence from a remote deposition depicting an attorney in overly casual attire should be avoided, if at all possible.
For this reason alone, the prudent answer to the question “What should I wear during a remote deposition?” is “The same attire I would wear to court.”
Some courthouses have dress standards for attorneys along with all others who appear in their courtrooms. Beyond the minimum level of attire necessary to avoid unwanted judicial attention, attorneys might also consider the extent to which their clothing choices promote success in the courtroom. Many people see a connection there.
Proper Apparel for Video Recordings
Attorneys conducting remote depositions should consider how their apparel will appear on video. While a business suit will always look professional and courtroom-appropriate, attention should be paid to clothing colors and material patterns. Colors and patterns that look good in person don’t always translate well to video.
Clothing with patterns and plaids can appear “busy” and distracting on video. They should be avoided. Choose instead solid colors such as grays and blues. Blue is popular on television because video recording technology captures it well. Pastel hues also look good on video. Many videographers say that white clothing is not flattering because it makes the wearer’s face appear pale and washed-out. Solid blacks and reds are also disfavored by media professionals.
Media communications specialists uniformly advise video presenters to avoid wearing anything that might distract from the message being conveyed. Here are some of the items they say should not be worn during video presentations:
- Dangling earrings
- Jewelry that moves, makes noise, or otherwise interferes with the microphone
- Clothing with stripes, checks, and herringbone patterns
- Hair products that shine
- Anything clothing with a visible brand name or logo
The point here is that the choice of apparel during a remote deposition should appear professional and not detract from the substance of the deposition. Although the attorney is not the main focus of a deposition, there is always a possibility that a judge or jury will one day view the deposition and draw conclusions based on the appearance of the deposition witness and the attorney.
Even the best-dressed and most media-savvy attorney will have trouble getting his or her point across during a remote deposition if the audio is garbled and the video image is distorted or distracting. For this reason, the task of looking good during a remote deposition doesn’t stop with clothing choices. Representing the client well during a remote deposition means making sure that:
- The attorney’s Internet connection is robust enough to reliably transmit good audio and video.
- The attorney’s microphone and camera are capable of capturing high quality audio and video data.
- The attorney is able to confidently present to the webcam (i.e., not looking away from the camera while speaking) during the deposition.
- The attorney is trained to confidently operate the technology being used to record the deposition.
Once again, while attorneys are not necessarily the star of the show in a remote deposition, they should be able to question the witness and advocate for the client just as effectively as if they were in the courtroom or other in-person setting.
While the legal profession allows — celebrates, in fact — self-expression and individualism, at the end of the day it is the lawyer’s obligation to represent and zealously advocate for the client’s interests. Yes, an attorney can remotely question a deposition witness just as effectively wearing a bathrobe as a business suit. But the possibility that a judge or juror may view that deposition at some later date makes casual attire a poor professional choice and risky proposition for the client. Nobody ever had to apologize for looking their best.