Stay up to date with happenings, thoughts, and various legal lessons from Seaside Legal Solutions
By: Joel Favazza
The majority of established attorneys I encounter at meetings, functions, or in the court room are almost always very well dressed; suit and tie (sometimes a vest), shined shoes, leather briefcase, clean shaven—the works. The standard rationale behind their attire is a dress-for-success mentality that is common throughout licensed professional fields. After all, clients expect that an attorney with decades of experience charging hundreds of dollars per hour will back up this reputation in appearance. More than that, it also sends a message to your adversaries and peers (any number of National Geographic wildlife specials will tell you that animals showcasing physical extravagance do so not only to attract a mate, but to intimidate their competition and/or predators as well). While I won’t be rocking a three-piece to a closing and I’ve essentially quit wearing ties outside of a courtroom setting (why should I dress like I did when I was a teenage bank-teller?), I know better than to show up in jeans and a pair of sandals if I expect to be taken seriously.
However, what I find quite perplexing is that this same dedication to physical appearance of one’s self is rarely mirrored in dedication to the preparation of one’s documents. I’m not talking about a bunch of crumpled paper or motions written on lined notebook paper. Rather, I’m talking about documents with inconsistent formatting, unprofessional font choice, randomly switching use of the third and first person, and refraining from using tabs, auto-numbering, etc.—documents that demonstrate little to no spell-checking, grammar-checking, or proof reading (note to the reader: if you happen upon a similar error in this post, know that I recognize the hypocrisy and apologize in advance).
What does one have to do with the other? Lots. If I meet with an attorney with whom I have not worked previously to negotiate a deal between my client and their client and he or she hands me a proposed settlement plan typed in Courier or Times New Roman (for more on this poor font choice, see Jay Shepherd’s piece on the subject, here) or rife with the easily-avoidable errors I mentioned previously, it suggests one or more of the following things to me: (1) you don’t care much about your client or this matter; (2) you’re too busy to divert time/energy into this matter and won’t as it progresses; (3) you have failed to evolve with technology and are unable to navigate a computer at a 6th grade level; (4) you really don’t have the mental acuity to notice the difference between what you’ve written and what is correct. Whether or not any of those statements are accurate, you’ve totally undermined the fact that your tie is impeccably full-windsor’d and your shoes cost more than cars I’ve owned. Nice work.
In the same way that Clients expect you to back up your fee schedule with professional attire and articulate advocacy, so too should they expect that your documents will display a baseline knowledge of modern word processing programs and the written English language. In the same way that your peers and adversaries read your wardrobe as a sign of competence, so too will they read your Comic Sans signature line in your emails as a hint of ineptitude.