• April 25, 2013
Original Photo by Matt Day

Original Photo by Matt Day

Rule 2.03(e) of the Minnesota Rules of General Practice provides, “Lawyers shall appear in court in appropriate courtroom attire.”

bradley-b-meeker.gif Minnesota Lawyer 1904

Minnesota Lawyer Bradley Meeker (1904)

The rule creates an obligation on Minnesota lawyers, of course, but the rule does not go the next step of defining the obligation in any way. (How could it? Times change. Brad Meeker (pictured at right) might get asked to go home and change if he showed up in his 1904 outfit these days.)

You know, APPROPRIATE ATTIRE. Get it?  (No. I do not.  And this has been a problem, in particular for women lawyers, for more than thirty years.)

Empirically — that is, from observation of common practices pervasive throughout the state bar (correct me if you think I am wrong) — it is clear that in 2013, in Minnesota state and federal courts, male lawyers appear to see the neck-tie as required by court rules.  Women lawyers do not.

Some traditions hang on through lethargy.  Revisiting or reconsidering the issue is simply too trivial to invest the time or energy to change.  I would submit that the noose-tie requirement is as silly and pointless (and as uncomfortable) as the barrister’s wig.

Barristers Wig

Barristers Wig

“But, Minnesota Litigator, it is tradition!  But, Minnesota Litigator, it is a slippery slope and, before long we won’t be able to tell the lawyers from their degenerate clients!  What next?  Tank tops and sandals??? But, Minnesota Litigator, we impose an obligation of ‘appropriate attire’ to maintain the dignity and solemnity of the courtroom!  The lawyer ‘is an officer of the court.'” ((Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 2.03(a). ))

I get all that that.  But any lawyer (or even someone not trained in the dark arts) worth his or her degree can rebut all of these weak arguments easily.  I just save the pixels and leave that to you, dear reader.

I am resigned to wearing a knot of cloth snugly against my throat whenever in court for the balance of my legal career.  But I am not going to like it.

For what it is worth (amusement?), here is my proposed alternative:  some kind of state-issued Minnesota State Bar pin, badge, or wearable card and an understanding that “appropriate courtroom attire” means “attire generally worn and acceptable in the community in formal proceedings such as weddings, funerals, or other occasions requiring a showing of dignity, solemnity, and respect” along with the state-issued bar pin (or badge, or ID). Hear me out.

If Minnesota lawyers could show their special role with a small identifying pin or badge (and not be required to wear a noose-tie), it could serve quite a few functions.

  1. It is gender neutral.
  2. It would provide a ritual recognition of Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 2.03.  A lawyer dons the pin or badge and, in doing so, must recognize that the lawyer is now functioning as an officer of the court.
  3. It would be a small income stream to the Minnesota bar.
  4. It would serve a public relations/advertising function.
  5. I would be more comfortable.

I could go on with even more arguments for my modest proposal.  But we end up full circle: the noose-tie, like the wig, will undoubtedly hang around for decades, at least, because the burden is actually quite minimal and the inertia favoring the status quo is comparatively overwhelming.

I am resigned but I am (k)not happy about it.

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