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December 29, 2010


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Tim Zinnecker

I see the same issue debated in the context of ministers / pastors / etc.

Maybe it's generational, but I'm inclined to pay (more) respect to a speaker who is well-dressed (and punctual).

Alfred Brophy

Hi Eric,

Some things -- unlike those wide ties I remember from the 1970s -- never go out of style. Seems like Jensen's piece is one of them! I blogged about this back in March 2008:

Jacqueline Lipton

And as one of my friends and colleagues, I'm glad to see Erik's work is having a resurgence!

Kevin Jon Heller


Alas, as with so many things, I think the situation here is deeply gendered. Men can get away with wearing almost anything in class without losing the respect of their students. (I, for one, wear jeans and a bowling shirt most days.) But I think a woman who dresses equally casually does, in fact, risk not being taken as seriously as they would if they dressed more professionally.

To be sure, this is a much larger problem -- I think women, particularly young ones, have to do more work in general in the classroom than men to earn the respect of their students. But I think dress is one of the aspects of that.

Tung Yin

I almost always wear a suit and tie on days that I teach, partly for reasons that Prof. Jensen suggests, but on days that I do not teach, I dress to be comfortable.

If, however, I happen to be traveling later that day for a conference, then I dress comfortably even if I'm teaching, and I explain to students the rules from my old law firm (in the pre-business casual days) about when you could get away with not wearing a suit -- either you were traveling on firm business that day, or you had been at work very late the night before.

I don't know about any different in respect, but the first time that I show up in class not in a suit, I invariably get comments, sometimes shocked expressions, etc. from the students.

Orin Kerr

I think there are two different reasons why law professors might want to dress well when teaching.

The first is for the professor: The professor might feel that he or she is respected more when well-dressed. The second is for the student: Dressing well generally means dressing like lawyers dress when in court or when meeting a client, which can impress upon students the standards and practices of the profession.

I wear suits to class for the second reason.


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Marc DeGirolami

I always wear a coat and tie when I teach (though not usually a suit), and I guess it's generally for the second reason that Orin raises, with this perhaps slight difference: I think it shows a respect for the profession and for its formality. I want to impart that respect in any way (and to the extent that) I can -- whether that means a formal style of address (I call students by their last names), a formal style of expression (in e-mail as well as in person), or a formal appearance.

I guess that might make me stodgy, but I'll also get a beer with students every so often, so maybe that helps a little.

David S. Cohen

I find this last thread of this conversation interesting -- about dressing and acting a certain way to impart on students what it means to be a professional.

I think it's important to realize that there's no one way that lawyers dress and act. Sure, in court there is, but a ton of lawyers never go to court, or if they do, they do it rarely. In my seven years of practice, I never wore anything formal to the office and when I met with clients, I definitely dressed nicer, but never wore a suit and probably rarely wore a tie. That was the custom in my line of work (public interest work) in my locality (Philadelphia). If I had worn a suit to work or to meet with some of my clients, it would have made people uncomfortable. There's just no one professional norm for lawyers on this issue.

In fact, on a related but different issue, if I'm modeling professional lawyerly behavior for my students, I don't see why they should call me "Professor Cohen" rather than "David." In the real world of legal practice, putting aside judges, we regularly use first names to address people who are much more senior than we are -- within firms, in bar associations, with clients, etc. If we're prepping our students for the real legal world, shouldn't they get used to using first names with people who are more experienced, advanced, etc. than they are? Probably a topic of a future post....

Marc DeGirolami

David, that is interesting. My guess (but it is just a guess) is that most lawyers still do wear formal attire when interacting with clients, even if some don't. On the names front, I think you are right that people within an office refer to each other by first name. But I don't think I've ever seen any official piece of correspondence (letter, affidavit, motion/memorandum of law, contract, pleading) in which first names are used. At any legal proceeding outside the office, last names are generally used, and I think that's true whether one is appearing in front of a judge or some other legal body.

More generally, I think formality is something comparatively alien to students who enter law school, particularly in their writing communication and personal appearance. That makes me think that it is an important "skill" to learn, even if one would personally wish (as I suppose I do not) that there were less of it.

Jonathan H. Adler

The Inside Higher Ed piece is only a much shorter version of a longer article, which is on SSRN here:

As for the effect of dress, I believe more professional attire does have a (small) effect on the feel of the class - making it more formal - and I've had students say as much. Whether this is a plus or a minus may depend on the nature of the class and the professor's desired approach. One note: It is always possible to make a class less formal by dressing down, but it is difficult to go in the opposite direction once a semester has begun.


Calvin Massey

I'm with Jensen. I wear a tie to class, but not necessarily a jacket. I call on students by honorific and last name -- Mr. Smith; Ms. Jones -- even when I know them well enough to use a first name, which I will use outside of class. The point is respect for them and for the work. A symbolic absence of standards implies a cavalier attitude towards the substance. Yet, class isn't stuffy. Vigorous dialogue can and does happen, and I notice my students sometimes refer to each other in classroom comments by their honorific and surname. I find sloppy professorial attire in class to be repugnant -- jeans, canvas basketball shoes, and a t-shirt? Please.

Matt Bodie

Just an example for Jonathan's point: On my first day of law school, I had Contracts with Phil Areeda in a three-piece suit, and Torts with Duncan Kennedy in jeans and a T-shirt that read: "Fish Worship: Is it wrong?" I think both attires were entirely appropriate for the professors in question.

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