Bar News - August 19, 2011
New Lawyers' Column: First Impressions and How to Make them Count
By: Kristin Clouser
We have all heard the saying – you never get a second chance to make a first impression. New attorneys, especially, cannot afford to make a bad first impression. Every time you are in a courtroom, the Court, jurors, witnesses, clients and attorneys are watching you and making mental notes and impressions that may stay with you throughout your career. Thus, it is important that new attorneys consistently put their best foot forward to ensure that every first impression is a good one.
Looking the Part
While New Hampshire may be more relaxed than New York City or Boston, conveying a professional appearance is important to all lawyers and can be especially important to young attorneys. Image consultants have opined that it may take anywhere from 30 seconds to four minutes to form an opinion based on someone’s appearance. New lawyers should take advantage of this and think critically of their appearance and what their appearance is projecting every time they enter a courtroom.
Certified image consultant Indigo Zuri suggests in The New Lawyer Guide 2010 – from the Virginia Lawyers Weekly – that attorneys should wear traditional, unmemorable attire in neutral tones and dark colors that project confidence without drawing attention. Patterns on suits, particularly men’s suits, should be kept simple. Zuri also urges young attorneys to be wary of fashion faux pas like wearing skirts or pants that are too short. Sandals should also be avoided in the courtroom and a judge should never see a white sock. Ill-fitting attire should also be avoided as it projects an image that one is unprepared and ill-suited for the particular undertaking.
Organization is Key
Looking the part goes beyond a new attorney’s attire. For example, how you arrange your file and materials on the counsel table or lectern is a significant factor in your overall appearance. In a courtroom, perception can truly be reality, thus, being prepared and organized will give the Court, your client and opposing counsel the perception that you are confident and ready for anything. The counsel table should be impeccably neat and organized. Loose, scattered papers and unorganized exhibits lying around the counsel table project an image that the case is not as important to you as it should be. Shuffling papers, constantly searching the file for exhibits and excessive whispering back and forth can connote disorganization, unpreparedness, or the sense that you are worried about how things are going. This is not the type of impression you want to leave on the Court or a jury. Make sure that your file’s appearance is as clean and neat as your personal appearance and the combination will be memorable for all the right reasons.
What may be most important to remember in making a good first impression is something that should remain constant in every case you try and in every courtroom you enter. Personal credibility. Bad witnesses, unfavorable rulings and maybe even ugly ties can all be forgiven, but once you lose credibility, you not only lose your case, but you may lose future cases as well. Part in parcel to keeping your personal credibility is being prepared every time you step into a courtroom. Being prepared starts with looking the part and being organized and ends with arming yourself with the knowledge necessary to succeed. Know the facts of your case forwards and backwards. Read the case law you have cited. Statements in your pleadings should not blindly parrot what your client relates to you, but should be statements that can be corroborated if need be. There is no better way to build your credibility than to show that you have spent the time and effort to know the specifics of your case and the law supporting your position.
Kristin Clouser, an associate at Brennan Caron Lenehan & Iacopino in Manchester, is a member of the NHBA New Lawyers’ Committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.