Once more into the fray, but gently

I wrote a post about young female lawyers and how some of them dress in court. That generated a firestorm because the post was far too provocative. Timidly, I return to that topic, but gently and briefly.

I receive a fair number of e-mails about this blog. Some of the best are from federal law clerks. One of them sent me a tip over the weekend about the New York Times  magazine column written by Chuck Klosterman, THE ETHICIST.

The full article is here (scroll down to “IF IT PLEASES THE COURT . . .”)  It is nicely summarized here by the Wisconsin State Public Defender. I was particularly taken by ethicist’s use of the words”mild subjugation” to give context to the question of dress. In the manner he uses them, do those words strike you as misogynist? Not me.


PS Thanks David!

11 responses

  1. Unfortunately this seems to show that when an issue is raised up to a column in the popular press, like the NYT Magazine, it’s very easy to lose all the detail that make the discussion interesting.
    The question the Ethicist published is underspecified, and a real analysis needs to turn on the details. Looking at it with a superficially broad brush results in a deeply unsatisfying analysis.

    You can see from the comments that many readers interpreted the question differently than I think readers of this blog would. I.e. whether this is skirtsuits-vs-pantsuits (a nuance of what really is formal attire) or whether it is sneakers-vs-dress-shoes (informal vs. formal). They really are not close to the same question.

  2. The question posed to Klosterman, who has demonstrated an unfortunate tendency to respond to questions involving the law and lawyers without having the slightest clue what he’s talking about, is one that criminal defense lawyers have discussed ad nauseum.

    The answer is absolutely clear: The client comes first. What that means, and how that’s achieved, may be subject to a more detailed discussion, but if the client is secondary to a lawyer’s personal/political interests, then he/she needs to find a different area of law to practice.

    Giving up some small piece of personal freedom is the price we pay when we take other people’s lives in our hands.

  3. SHG,

    His column presumes that “ethics” is one thing rather than a series of various precepts intended to address different situations (medical ethics, legal ethics, business ethics, etc.,). But, for now, I don’t care about that gaping problem.

    Scott, you taught me about this generation’s strange use of language and my failure to realize that words have no meaning except for the meaning attributed to them by young readers. Thus, when I read the Times pieces, I concentrated on the words “mild subjugation.”

    Yesterday, you had a post titled “A Dialogue on Gender With Nancy Leong.” You write that “while this has been framed as a dialogue, it seems to be anything but. If words are used that are inconsistent with the approved feminist lexicon, the response is swift and brutal: you are a misogynist (or worse)!!! It would appear that Ad Hominem Path is a one-way street, and any male who uses the language of the patriarchy is tarred as a rapist.”

    Turning back to the Times piece, The word “subjugate” is conventionally defined to mean “to defeat and gain control of (someone or something) by the use of force.” That is, “to bring under control and governance” or “to make submissive.”

    Surely those are fighting words to the Nancy Leong’s of the world. But, in truth, female lawyers who enter the courtroom must “subjugate” themselves, albeit “mildly.” The same goes equally for male lawyers. That we all must undergo trivial travails in our lives should not be much of a surprise to adults. But, I fear from reading apparently “serious” discussions about frilly dresses in the courtroom, that now make the New York Times, that the best reaction to the Nancy Leong’s of the world is to pat them on the head and move on.

    All the best.


  4. As the great philospher Dylan said, we all “gotta serve somebody.” At least it should be for a good cause.

  5. SHG,

    He also famously said, “Being noticed can be a burden. Jesus got himself crucified because he got himself noticed. So I disappear a lot.”

    All the best.


  6. Judge:
    On a related note, there should be a blog entry about lawyers and their changed attire on so- called “dress down Fridays.” I am an employee of a state government agency and notice that lawyers, male and female alike, choose to dress down on Friday. Yours truly does not do so and, when questioned why, tells all who care to listen that one’s professional appearance does not change once the clock strikes 12:01 on Friday morning. However, I have yet to persuade anyone to renounce their habit of changing attire. Oh well…to paraphrase Bob Dylan: “A lawyer is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his license.”

  7. It occurs to me that the only misogyny is on the part of the questioner. …do I have to conform to gender norms [in my profession’s dress “code”] I find oppressive…?

    Either she’s a rational, adult human being who happens to be female, or she’s a female who happens to be an adult human being. She needs to get over herself and figure which she wants to be.

    She seems also to have slept through, or not yet taken, her law program’s course in logic: more likely is not certainty. Indeed, that explicitly leaves quite a bit of flexibility–including being taken seriously more by how well she represents her client than by how well she represents her mirror.

    Eric Hines

  8. Robert,

    It is funny how we rebel against convention at the drop of a hat. I have never understood “casual Friday” either, although truth to tell I have never spent time worrying about how others dress so long as they appear as professionals in court and in my chambers.

    All the best.


  9. Pingback: Klosterman’s Cusp | Simple Justice

  10. I don’t like wearing a suit and tie. But I do when I go to court because that’s what’s expected of counsel. (I really don’t want to recreate the “My Cousin Vinnie” scenes about proper court attire.) For men, the choices of two-button or three, or of single, double, or no vent, communicate little if anything about the wearer. It’s trickier if you’re female. The choice between dress suits and pant suits is freighted with subtext. And even in those categories, there are choices that women have to make to which society attaches significance, such as skirt length or the degree of “plunge” of the neckline. But while I sympathize, I agree that a little “mild subjugation” is in order, just as it is for me. (Actually, now that I think about it, I think that, for men, wearing those currently fashionable, ridiculous “skinny suits” communicates shallowness. To such trendies, I’d say: You’re not Don Draper, and this ain’t 1962. But that’s just me.)

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