I once saw a written decision from a court trial where the judge stated that in deciding which of the parties to believe, he took into account the fact that one of the parties had worn a skirt with a high slit. He saw that as an attempt to try to manipulate him, and on that basis found her to lack credibility and found for the other side.
In the judge’s eyes, it comes down to respect. The judge wears a black robe and the attorneys all dress in suits, and there you are in your cargo pants and tennis shoes. It gives the immediate impression that you didn’t care enough about the proceedings to dress professionally.
So what should you wear to court? In most instances men should wear a suit and tie, or at least a long-sleeve shirt and tie, and women should wear an equivalently professional outfit. In the case of a jury trial, you should consider the message you want to send. If you are the defendant, being sued for money, and you know that the plaintiff is going to try to convince the jury that you are a deep pocket, then it might be appropriate to dress down a bit; perhaps a sport coat and no tie.
The following video is less than one minute, but shows some quick before and after comparisons.
And never, ever, take advice on how to dress for court from Lindsay Lohan:
If you are involved in litigation in California, the experience of the attorneys at Morris & Stone can guide you through all the important litigation issues, down to what you should wear. Call for a free consultation at (714) 954-0700.
If you are going it alone, or if you just want to understand what your attorney is doing, here are some excellent reference materials:
Civil Procedure Before Trial is the civil litigation bible in California. All judges are provided a set of these guides and they are what the judges refer to when they are deciding procedural matters. They are hugely expensive to buy, but you can use them for free at any law library. As far as I know, every county has at least one law library, usually near the courthouse. If your financial circumstances are such that you simply can’t afford an attorney and you are trying to navigate the legal system by yourself, I cannot imagine trying to do so without access to Civil Procedure Before Trial. Even after more than 20 years of litigation, I refer to these volumes on an almost daily basis. And even if no law library is convenient to you and you are forced to buy these volumes, consider that the cost is less than what you would pay for three hours of an attorney’s time, on average.
Incidentally, judges and attorneys refer to this set of guides as “Weil and Brown”, referring to the judges that wrote it. Technically it is what is referred to as a “secondary source” since it is not case law, but it is so well regarded that it is permissible to cite to it directly. If you look on the first few pages it provides the proper citation format to be used when citing the materials in a brief. With these volumes in hand, preparing or defending against a motion is far easier since all of the law and procedures are spelled out; you need only quote from the text.
Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare & Try a Winning Case, is an outstanding self-help litigation book. If, understandably, you can’t afford Civil Procedure Before Trial, then this is the minimum investment you must make if you want to maximize your chances of winning. This guide is so helpful in explaining the process that I sometimes provide copies to my clients so they can better understand what I am doing. Even if you have access to Civil Procedure Before Trial, this offers a nice supplement since it explains things in layman’s terms.