I’m unsure how first year lawyers will start this year, but no matter how you or they start, it will likely not be with the miscues I experienced when I left the USAF and became an associate in what was then a mid-sized, now a tiny law firm in Roanoke, Virginia.
Given how appropriate dress for lawyers has changed, I doubt the young male lawyers will make any of my embarrassing faux pas in my attire.
Nancy and I arrived in Roanoke, Virginia in July of 1976, where I started my career with a law firm and Nancy began her career as a medical technologist in charge of the blood bank for the Red Cross.
Almost immediately I learned a couple of valuable things. First, I learned I had no earthly idea how a real lawyer was supposed to dress. And, second, I learned that no one in my law firm had a clue about trying cases in court, and I was to be the one to take on that responsibility.
When I showed up at the office the first day, I believe I broke every rule of appropriate attire. First, I wore a short sleeve shirt. It was July, and in the Air Force, we wore short sleeve shirts in the summer. I learned that lawyers wear long sleeve shirts and do not leave the office without their suit coat.
If that discovery wasn’t embarrassing enough, I learned that same day that lawyers wear over the calf socks. I was told, “no one wants to look at your calves. Having never worn over the calf socks, I didn’t even know they existed.
Third, I learned that a lawyer never wears loafers with a suit or even with any kind of dress pants. I was told loafers looked like bed room slippers.
Thankfully, there was a Men’s Store was right next door to our office. I spent the better part of my first day at work, setting up my new account and purchasing underwear, socks, long sleeve shirts, wing tip and cap toe shoes, and a new suit.
So, my second day I was at least dressed appropriately, or at least so I thought. That day I learned that off the shelf shirts never fit both the neck and the body. Therefore, I should buy custom made shirts. If I did that, I could also get my initials either on my sleeve or shirt pocket and everyone would know my shirts were custom made.
For those of you who will become future litigators, picture trying cases with no discovery. When I first started lawyers were just starting to file interrogatories and depositions weren’t taken in every case.
During my first or second week with the firm I was asked to sit in on an interview of a mother who was accused of stabbing her abusive husband to death in front of her children. I had very little criminal experience and no jury trial experience. The mother showed up with her children who were with us in the conference room.
Soon thereafter I sat in the courtroom and expected to sit silently at the counsel table, while the senior lawyer defended her.
Much to my surprise, when it came time for final argument, he looked over at me and said, “Cordell, why don’t you deliver the final argument.” I was shocked, having nothing prepared. By now I can’t remember how nervous I must have been, But, I stood up and made the argument that she was defending herself from a violent man. Thankfully, the jury saw it that way also.
At this point I can’t tell you for sure when it happened, but at some point after that trial I decided I wanted to focus on representing construction contractors.