New Rule Implements Dress Code for Attorneys
by Becky Bye
awyers in Colorado aren’t exactly known for their fashion sense, but they’ll have to start paying more attention because of a new rule.
"If you want to act the part, you have to look the part," said Joe King, chair of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct Standing Committee, after it passed a new rule regarding attorneys’ attire while representing clients.
Committee Laments Lack of Professional Attire
In early February, the committee conducted its quarterly meeting to discuss professionalism issues and proposed updates and changes to the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. Consistent with previous meetings of the committee, the crux of the discussion involved attorneys’ relaxed attitudes regarding professionalism and upholding the honor and integrity of the legal system.
The discussion also led to committee members lamenting the attire of many attorneys, in and out of the courtroom and even in the day-to-day non-litigation representation of clients. They noted that many judges, fellow lawyers, clients, and members of the public complained that some did not "look like real lawyers" when showing up for court or client appearances. Instead, they wore outfits described as being better suited for workouts at the gym or raunchy Vegas nightclubs.
Subsequently, the committee deduced that if lawyers "looked like lawyers, like professionals representing the legal system," then some would be more inclined to act in a more professional, virtuous manner. They also noted that if lawyers had a dress code, similar to those of schools or the military, we would be a more cohesive profession and take our profession more seriously.
Accordingly, the committee recommended a set of parameters for the Colorado Supreme Court to adapt in its annual update of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. The committee was applauded for its efforts and the parameters outlining appropriate dress were approved by the court; however, with the opening of the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center and various other high-profile legal events going on, the new rule was adapted unbeknownst to many members of the bar. The bar associations and other legal organizations are working to get the word out before the rule goes into effect on April 1 to avoid violations.
Content of the New Rule
Rule 4.13, titled "Lawyer Attire," reads as follows:
In the course of representing a client, a lawyer must act professional, which includes looking professional. Accordingly, a lawyer must wear an appropriate suit when interacting with clients at the office and in public. Pursuant to Rule 8.3, judges and lawyers have the obligation to report any violation of this rule.
Already, the rule has received much criticism. First, many lawyers feel that a dress code is far too intrusive. Additionally, some attorneys, by nature, have more relaxed practices and clients that want a more laid-back attorney, especially in an office setting. This rule would change the complete character of many law offices. One attorney, who requested not to be named for fear of retribution for speaking out against the rule, angrily asked: "Now I have to go buy a suit to be an attorney?"
Other criticisms focus on the language of the rule itself. Another attorney noted that the rule does not define "appropriate" or "suit." She joked that the word suit could have many different meanings depending on the adjective that preceded the word (e.g., bathing suit, birthday suit, etc.). Others say that the word "public" can be interpreted to mean anytime a lawyer goes outside his or her home, even on weekends.
The new rule certainly has its flaws, but we anticipate that formal opinions will be issued soon to provide further guidance.
Advice on Proper Attire
In the meantime, attorneys need to use their best judgment when choosing attire after this rule goes into effect on April 1. The Docket Committee has met at length regarding the new rule to provide some general guidance to its constituents.
Among the various issues discussed, the committee decided that attorneys absolutely should not wear jeans, sport coats, "loud" colors, sneakers, or white socks in the office or in courts. Men should wear dark-colored suits with matching socks and dress shoes; women should think twice about wearing pantsuits but should also refrain from skirt suits with a hem above the knee.
Because of my personal interest in fashion, I am closely following any developments or further interpretations of the rule and will report on any new information about the rule in The Docket. D
Becky Bye is a public attorney. She received her J.D. from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law in 2005. Bye is actively involved in the legal community, including serving on the University of Denver Sturm College of Law Alumni Council, the DBA Docket Committee, and was previously a chair of the CBA Young Lawyers Division. In her spare time, she enjoys writing for The Docket, tandem bicycling with her lawyer-husband, and of course, reading about the latest fashion trends (and mandates) for lawyers. Bye may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.