Why Lawyers Wear Suits


Baker Botts LLP has just taken the lead in Houston. The city’s third largest law firm has formally adopted a return to a traditional dress code. The casual dress code may be a passing fad, but
apparently law firms (and others) don’t understand why suits are important, otherwise they probably would not have switched to a casual attire policy in the first place. But perhaps it is now becoming clear to them that how an attorney looks is still important.

Why is it important for attorneys to wear suits? Because they are marketing. It’s all about marketing and positioning. What? You thought attorneys shunned marketing? You thought they abstained from marketing because it was something inappropriate for their profession? No it’s true, they’ve been secretly devoted to marketing for decades. Even if they may not have realized it.

When a person hires an attorney, he is buying something he cannot see: A service. And on top of that, a very expensive service.

Now, imagine someone buying something “sight unseen.” Can you imagine someone buying something without seeing it first? Especially if it is EXPENSIVE? Would you pay a million dollars, or hundreds of thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars for something without taking a look at it first? Of course not.

Potential buyers are very reluctant to buy things they cannot see. So they emphasize what they can see. Why? To try to “get a handle on it.” What does that mean? It means, “to touch it.” The attempt is to make something that is intangible, tangible, so it can be evaluated. It has been said that the longer your attire says, “Struggling Young Attorney,” the longer the struggle. And this is true also for your business card, brochure and office.

We cannot see a great legal brief in action. We cannot see the beauty of a well written contract. We cannot kick the tires or take it out for a test drive. In addition, we worry that the attorney will take more time than necessary, and charge more than necessary. But if the attorney is smartly dressed with polished shoes, we tend to believe he is professional, methodical, and we believe he pays attention to details. And the more his business card, brochure, website and office décor are aligned to reinforce that notion, the more comfortable we feel trusting him.

This is the TV generation. People are visually oriented. We remember faces, but forget names. For understanding, we first look for visible clues. But services are invisible. Therefore visual symbols representing a service become critically important when the product is invisible.

Consider the O. J. Simpson trial: It introduced into public awareness, the hearsay rule. Many people, including law students, have been puzzled by The Hearsay Rule. But the rule is derived from the basic principle that people are visually oriented. To evaluate what someone says, we need to see the speaker. Jurors need to see the witness, not just hear what the witness said.

Law firm prospects want to know who it is that they are considering entering into a relationship with. They need to see you to decide about you. They look for clues, even subtle clues. Your tie–is it showy? Your suit–is it wrinkled? Your business card, your website, your eyes. Most law firms however institutionalize their presentation to the public unaware that the public uses more personal and less formal means to evaluate. Stock photos of paid models shaking hands or in a meeting and text speaking vague generalizations says two things clearly to prospects: You are willing to waste their time and the presentation is dishonest. What message can hurt more?

People will trust what they see before they will trust what you say – especially about yourself. So it is critical to be honest and consistent.

When those visible or tangible items that represent you do not align with who you claim to be, your audience gets confused and has reason to doubt you. Notice those reasons are tangible. And it is very difficult to convince a confused person who is unsure of you to trust you.

Attorneys and Law Firms: Let your testimony be consistent and clear. Make sure people see who you are and make your prospect comfortable. Watch what you and your firm look like because, seeing is believing.

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