When I was young I was fond of watching legal drama on television and film. There, lawyers are portrayed as well dressed, prim and proper, and my desire of becoming a lawyer was formed. I followed the series “The Practise” which is for me the most realistic of all legal dramas I have ever seen. In all other movies or series which feature the character of lawyers they are usually portrayed as well dressed. In the Philippines however, those old films present lawyers dressed in ill-fitting barong tagalog or coat and tie which do not seem to suit the actor. Maybe because the actors were “extras” who were probably contracted to do the role at the last minute. Do they give justice to lawyers in the Philippines? Is there a prescribed attire for lawyers when they appear in court?
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 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 over all 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.