Dress to Kill

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When one wears barong Tagalog or coat and tie, the usual reaction of people is “uy abogadong abogado a!” if not the joke- “kelan and libing?”. If a lawyer wears a simple shirt, jeans, and rubber shoes, the reaction can be: “ay abogado pala, hindi kasi nagmumukha e” or “parang hindi abogado”. The way we dress tells so much about us even before doing or saying anything. While there are some people who try hard to be “humble” by dressing like the masses, proper attire must still be observed as a sign of respect for the profession and people they meet or transact with. For my first hearing around ten years ago, I was asked by a friend to appear for him in court since he could not make it for the scheduled arraignment but I was so new in the law profession that I was not even able to buy any barong Tagalog yet. So I dared to appear in court in my white long sleeves without even a tie and a coat. When I entered my appearance the judge pretended that she could not hear me well and so she asked me to approach her. In a low voice and pretending to ask for my name, she told me very kindly to at least wear a barong Tagalog whenever I appear in court. I was so embarrassed, not because I was not in proper attire but because of the kindness and generosity of the judge for taking much effort so as not to embarrass me in open court. Other judges would have fined me or simply reset my case. Thankfully, I think the judge knew that I did not intend to disrespect her court but simply because I was so new in the profession that I could not afford to buy a barong or coat and tie.

Lawyers and Their Attire

The Code of Professional Responsibility Canon 11 states that “a lawyer shall observe and maintain the respect due to the courts and to judicial officers and should insist on similar conduct of others”. Rule 11.01 under said Canon commands that “a lawyer shall appear in court properly attired”. But what is meant by proper attire? In some courts, a notice is posted saying something like: “lawyers appearing in this court must wear barong tagalog or suit”. Some judges are very strict and would not recognise lawyers appearing in their sala if they are not in barong tagalog or a pair of suit. I once witnessed a court scene where the judge did not recognise the appearance of the lawyer when his case was called because the latter was wearing a barong tagalog with short sleeves. Other judges even do not consider barong tagalog with chinese 04, 11 and 18, 2020) style collar as proper attire.

With respect to lady lawyers, some judges do not allow them to wear above-the-knee skirts. But even with all of these rules on the attire of lawyers in court, there are still quite a number of lawyers who may be considered as “fashion victims”. Some lawyers appear in court wearing rubber shoes or jeans and they get away with it.

Why Wear Proper Attire?

Lawyers have to appear in court properly attired because it is a manifestation of his respect to the courts and the judicial officers. Wearing the prescribed clothes is not a show of respect to the courts alone, it also invites respect to the lawyer himself. A lawyer has to dress properly, not merely to impress his clients and prospective clients but to maintain the image and respect due the profession.

Although the attire will not mask the ill manner of a person, it surely adds to the overall image he has. It will make a good impression to people if a person pays attention to what he wears. I am not saying that lawyers must wear expensive and flashy clothes, in fact this is frowned upon by some judges. For me I have just three office barongs which I use when appearing in court. They are not expensive and quite simple but they remind me that my profession is a noble one. I think the issue of proper attire will be solved if, just like in the United Kingdom, robes will be worn by lawyers when appearing in court. In the Philippines, lawyers are actually required to wear robes when appearing in superior courts just like the Supreme Court.

For me wearing a robe in trial courts will settle the question of what “proper attire” is. Those in warmer areas will surely complain of the inconvenience it will bring but lawyers will not have to worry much about their fashion. In the end what is really essential is the lawyer’s duty to observe and maintain respect due the courts and judges which in turn will reinforce the credibility of the justice system.

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