Has anyone been following the recent Twitter war regarding what women lawyers should wear to court? It has been quite the kerfuffle. Always wear a pantsuit. No, skirts are a must. Never show bare leg but never wear tights. Try to look conservative but also feminine. I mean, who can follow all these instructions? Can I get a flowchart for women’s apparel?
com dkoll bakkenorman Deanne M. Koll, William Mitchell 2006, is an attorney and shareholder with Bakke Norman S.C., with offices in Menomonie and New Richmond, Wis.
If you read commentary on this issue, one would think that Lady Justice would keel over dead unless the woman lawyer was perfectly dressed. Until this issue played itself out, I thought it was academic only. I was woefully unaware of the ongoing outrage. I never really think about my outfit when I’m pouring my kids’ Cheerios with one hand, responding to email with the other, and packing lunches with my third hand.
But, I do have a tragic narrative on this issue. When I first started practicing, I was told– by more than one lawyer – that I should always wear a skirt when I showed up in Judge X’s court. Seriously.
Now, if you follow my rants, you would assume that – upon hearing this suggestion – I would have made an obscene hand gesture, and always showed up in a pantsuit. But, embarrassingly, you’d be wrong. Instead, I conformed to this unreasonable demand. Every time I showed up in the courtroom for a hearing with Judge X, I always wore a skirt. And, I told other women lawyers about this mandate, and to the best of my knowledge, they dutifully complied.
Now, 13 years into my legal career, I look back at this and I’m ashamed. How am I showing the future generation of women lawyers that you are the only one in charge of you. I am acutely aware of my own hypocrisy, particularly when I stand strong on the position that we should gauge a woman’s worth by her words and deeds rather than her image. I tell my two daughters how smart and funny they are, rather than beautiful (even though they are), specifically to attempt to eradicate the social indoctrination that a woman’s beauty – and not her brain – is paramount.
But what are women to do in this situation? If we earnestly accept the duty of zealous advocacy for clients, can we knowingly defy a wardrobe mandate that may determine a case? Can I ignore this wardrobe directive if doing so works to the client’s detriment? Or, is this just me justifying my compliance?
I don’t know the answers. Frankly, just putting these issues down on paper is a bit depressing. To me, the Twitter warfare over the correct female wardrobe is an exercise of diminishing a woman’s worth to her appearance. I cannot stand for that, and I hope you won’t either.
Every time I showed up in the courtroom for a hearing with Judge X, I always wore a skirt.
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I have this lie I tell myself: Work will slow down soon. In the coming months, I’m looking forward to further lies: You’ll get your head above water. Your anxiety level will decrease. You’ll sleep more and eat better and run a half-marathon. Okay, so maybe the last isn’t true. But, the first parts certainly are.
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com dkoll bakkenorman Deanne M. Koll, Bakke Norman S.C., New Richmond.
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