Monday, March 29, 2010

What Matters In A Lawyer's Off-line Presence?

While we're busy creating a generation of "lawyers" obsessed with their online presence, I wonder if the lawyer's off-line presence is even a consideration anymore.

I'm not talking about the Starbucks lawyer with no clients whose only offline presence involves remaining quiet enough not to disturb the college students enjoying cafe lattes next to them, I'm talking about the lawyer that goes to court, or meets with clients, or actually carries around a file or two and wears an occasional suit.

And I'm not just talking about dress. I'm talking about "presence."

I'm talking about the way a lawyer conducts themselves in and out of court, around clients, around other lawyers. My personal belief is that a lawyer's presence is about how they conduct themselves from the time they walk out of their house, to the time they get home.

I was in court Monday before the judge took the bench and observed 4 prosecutors laughingly discuss the weekend. The discussion was loud enough for the defendants in the courtroom to hear. I wondered what they thought. I wondered if they were either relieved to know that the people who in a few minutes would ask the judge to sentence them, take them into custody, or otherwise advocate that their lives change in a significant way were happily discussing their social lives, or whether that made them feel like this courtroom was not a serious place to the government.

I then saw a tweet from a business professional criticizing lawyers tweeting from court. I explained that there is a lot of down time in court waiting for the judge to call cases, to which he responded that regardless, he would immediately fire his lawyer if he saw him tweeting from court.

Some clients don't like when opposing counsel appear friendly in court. Some lawyers can't wear a matching jacket and pants to save their life. Some lawyers put on a show at every court appearance, thinking the client will be like a proud parent and say "that's my lawyer!"

This all leads me to a question, really for non-lawyers, although lawyers are invited to comment.

What do you expect from your lawyer regarding his/her behavior, conduct, dress, and overall "presence?" If you've ever been to court with a lawyer, what bothered you about your lawyer's conduct, or the conduct of another lawyer? When you hire a lawyer, are you hiring the lawyer for their ability alone, or does it matter how clean their office is, or how professional they look, or how they carry themselves in court?

Do you care if your lawyer looks like this:

Or this:

Actually, this lawyer did pretty well:

Once you get past the bullshit website and Vegas-style marketing brochure, what matters to you about your real-life lawyer?

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.



Rob S. said...

If I was a client, I would definitely want my lawyer to "walk the walk", so to say. That means wearing a nice suit, being respectful, no tweeting in court, etc. Act like the high paid professional you are supposed to be. Hell, the District Court here makes you check your BB at the door.

Mike F. said...

Brian, I hope you get lots of responses to this, I would love to see the different insights. I know my philosophy is that I am appropriate for the time and place. If I don't have court, I won't be in a suit and tie, but I also won't be in cutoffs and tank top. I believe my behavior and manner say a lot more about me than my dress in the office. That being said, I believe that being on good terms with the prosecutors and court personnel is to my client's advantage over being adversarial to everyone.

The other thing is pretending I don't have a life outside court. I am beginning to understand that I can tell someone I can't meet then, because I have a conflict, even if that conflict is a personal matter. That has been a big leap for me.

Organized, professional but still human is what I am aiming for.

W.R. Eilers said...

I think this is a great point to be heard on the general front, a reminder to all attorneys to be aware of your presence. That being said, different strokes for different folks. Whenever, I have spoken with friends seeking legal advice, I always tell them "find a competent attorney who you are comfortable with." The problem is that everyone is comfortable with a different type of person. As I read your post, I kept thinking, "I don't go to court." I do transactions exclusively. My client base is young entrepreneurs who get turned off by the well suited up attorney unless the situation calls for it. As Mike F. said, I aim to be organized and professional. Client's will accept eccentricities in you perform dutiful and with integrity.

The Whimsical Quill said...

From my perspective, if I were a client, I would like to know that a lawyer would do their job exceedingly well for me regardless of what outfit they were required to wear.
If a lawyers' formal attire (or lack of) affected their performance or professionalism, as a client I'd be very concerned.

Some dress codes are there for a reason, for example, a policeman wears a uniform so that his position of authority, and indeed the legal boundries that must not be crossed, are clearly identifiable and definable.
Some people respect this, while others don't even take it into consideration or see it as relevent. However, not all members of the police force are uniformed, it depends what area of the law they work in.

Would a change in dress code in a court of law, signify a relaxed or an updated approach to a modern day legal system? Could that be beneficial in any way to the legal system?

As for conduct, or presence, I'd hate to have a lawyer to appear to be so austere, that I felt too uncomfortable to approach them. I can't see that as being very productive for either the lawyer or their client.
But there is a time and a place for everything, knowing the correct time and place is what sets some people aside from others.

As for tweeting while waiting, ask me in ten years time when some other gadget has been invented. I come from an era when we would get disqualified if we had taken a calculator into an exam at school, these days it is the norm to take one in.