After a recent jury trial, I spoke with our foreperson and was reminded that how we are perceived by others is incredibly important. We all have to think about modifying our presentation based upon the audience we stand in front of so that our message can be heard. That does not mean you try to be someone else. Be yourself in a way that allows others to see you better, hear you better, and understand you better. Better than the other side.
So I tell my female students the truth: that their body and demeanor will be under relentless scrutiny from every corner of the courtroom. That they will have to pay close attention to what they wear and how they speak and move. That they will have to find a way to metabolize these realities, because adhering to biased expectations and letting slights roll off their back may be the most effective way to advance the interests of their clients in courtrooms that so faithfully reflect the sexism of our society.
I don’t wear obviously expensive jewelry in front of a jury so they won’t think the doctor gets the rich lawyer to defend him/her. I always call judges “your honor” because I think it sounds more respectful than “judge.” This is particularly true when your opposing counsel is saying “judge” in a thick good-ole-boy drawl. While it may not be consciously noted by the court, it certainly has the potential to affect the court subconsciously.
All of these lessons are also applicable when you are appearing in front of a client. If you have an older male client, why not put on something more traditionally lawyer looking. If your client is a severe female who always wears a traditional suit, adjust to that as well. These little adjustments can make you more successful because your audience will see you better, hear you better, and understand you better. Remember, it is not about you, it is about how you are being perceived by others.
A wise woman once told me that she had a saying when in college “look good, feel good, do good.” The same principle simply stated – thanks for that Tricia Derr!
Wife, Mother, Trial Lawyer. Not always in that order.