In this new age of social distancing, a serious question in the legal profession arises: is the time honored formality of the courtroom in jeopardy? What is to become of the black robe, shining woodwork, crisp documents, and attorneys in suits? At this point, after almost two months under social distancing standards, attorneys nationwide have appeared before the courts or had client meetings over some form of video communication. Dress shoes now sit collecting dust in closets while judges are getting an inside look at lawyers’ home offices, kitchens, and even bedrooms. How does one reconcile formal court hearing decorum while working out of their home?
In the time saved from not traveling to court or the office, it would be prudent to brush up on the rules of court behavior and attire. Attorneys must, even in the time of a pandemic, treat all court appearances for what they are – formal court proceedings. The Ohio Supreme Court sets forth specifics in its guide entitled “Professionalism Do’s & Don’ts: Professionalism in the Courtroom“. By setting forth “principles of civility and respect”, in theory, “lawyers will enhance their professionalism as well as the dignity of courtroom proceedings.” For instance, DO wear appropriate courtroom attire. For men, this means wear a tie. DO be prepared. DO be on time.
Perhaps, in this new era of increased hearings via video communications such as Zoom, the guide may need to be changed to address behavior and attire when appearing in front of the court, rather than in the court. Video conferencing can result in an uncontrolled environment. Certainly, an errant pet or child crossing in the background of a hearing is forgivable. These are unprecedented times; however, for those issues that we can control, we must do so. These are punctuality, courtesy, preparedness, and very importantly, what we wear. The effort we put in to our court appearances and client meetings reflects the level of respect we have for our system of justice; therefore, DO dress as if you are in court or in person.
The uncertainty of the present makes the effort for normality all that more important. The rich history of our legal system deserves and demands the respects of its members. Until the formality of the court can be restored in its entirety, the members of the bar must maintain the court’s dignity through their own behavior which most certainly includes proper attire. As one member of the judiciary points out, shirts are a requirement of attorneys and please, get out of your bed before you represent your clients.