Originally Posted by Bic Pentameter
Interesting statement, JBZ. I wonder if you could elaborate. I assume these people were powerful because they had the ear of important clients. How many of beauty contests did these powerful partners lose because the potential client said "I want someone who looks like [my preconceived idea of] a sucessful high class lawyer."
How many beauty contests did these powerful partners win because the potential client said of a competing firm, "I don't want to spend $500 per hour to put another Patek on his wrist or feed his out of control bespoke clothing habit."
Time to try again (this time I'll try not to lose the post).
It's an interesting question. First and foremost, clients want their attorneys to produce a superior work product by the deadline imposed by the client. Appearance is secondary, but I think how secondary depends on the personality of the client. The partners at my old firm who dressed poorly but did well were certainly not wanting for clients. On the other hand, there were some equally successful partners who obviously put a great deal of thought into their wardrobes. Generally (though not universally), the litigators are the better dressers, because they regularly must appear in a public setting.
There are definitely clients out there who expect their lawyers to "look like lawyers." However, this doesn't mean they expect Kiton and Charvet. Brooks Brothers and Lands' End may be sufficient. There are also clients out there who genuinely don't care, especially if those clients dress casually themselves. Remember, law firms would never have gone casual if the clients didn't do it first. The law firms went casual because they didn't want to be the stuffy folks in the conference room. It could hurt the bottom line if the clients felt they couldn't "relate" to their lawyers. If clients suddenly went back to business dress en masse, rest assurred the the law firms would follow suit. The law firms will never be the leaders in this area. They react to what their clients do.
As you state, there are probably also clients out there who don't want to see their lawyers prancing around in $5,000 suits and $15,000 watches. They might feel like they're paying to support their attorney's clothing habit, no matter how excellent the service they're being given is. While I don't think this is true of most clients, lawyers do need to be conscious of this. I find that most lawyers are more low key in how they dress, anyway. Of course, the flashy ones do exist, but I don't think they are the norm.
Generally, I think that most clients care about the quality of service and not the appearance of their attorney. As long as you dress in the style of the accepted dress code at your office, you're probably fine. As I said above, appearance is more important than quality.