By: Timothy Black
The best trial lawyers excel in trial preparation – every last detail. We work very hard to ensure that we know every single fact of the case – every date, every person, and every place – so we can represent our clients in the best way possible. We coordinate our witness list, who sits at counsel’s table, and where Laura’s lucky turtle is placed. As trial lawyers, and especially as jury trial lawyers, it is extremely important that we control the way the jury hears our client’s story and the way the jury processes our client’s defense. A vital part of that, and a part that deserves as much attention as our understanding of the facts of the case, is the outfit our client wears to court. As one Ohio woman learned, the defendant’s appearance can often times be the one factor that sways a jury from NOT GUILTY to GUILTY, or the other way around.
Early in 2016, an Ohio model named Tara Lambert was tried for allegedly hiring the services of a Franklin County sheriff’s deputy posing as a hit man. She was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 7 years in the penitentiary. The conviction was overturned by the appellate court in June of this year, and she will be retried; this time with the assistance of new counsel. As that new counsel (and Ms. Lambert) begin trial preparation – every last detail will be evaluated. Most notably, as reported by Inside Edition, will be the defendant’s outfits at trial. For her first trial, Ms. Lambert’s courtroom attire was often the star of the show, and in the defense’s opinion, often eclipsed the evidence and the arguments in its importance. Whether it was her designer suits, oversized diamond, or stiletto heels, Ms. Lambert came to court every day dressed for the camera. But that backfired. As Ms. Lambert put it, the jurors “were worried about my wardrobe rather than what was really going on.” As her new attorney says, “Juries pick up on things and when you are in a court of law you are not at a discotheque.” He went on to say that “sometimes people focus on the wrong details and when they are confronted with those details day after day after day, sometimes what matters gets lost.” His sentiments prove the importance of trial preparation – every last detail.
While it may seem absurd that a juror would place so much weight on something as trivial as the defendant’s outfit, we see things like this all the time. Jurors (and Judges, for that matter) are paying attention to everything, which is why we place such an emphasis on trial preparation – every last detail. You don’t always know what will turn a juror off. Sometimes it’s the defendant’s media persona, sometimes it’s the defendant’s clothes, and sometimes it’s the defendant’s defense. The unpredictability is what prompts us to pay such close attention to trial preparation – every last detail. When it comes to your courtroom fashion, use your common sense. Don’t show up to your drug case with a graphic tee about marijuana, don’t show up to your preliminary hearing looking like you’re coming from the gym, and don’t show up to trial in stilettos and a designer suit. Come dressed modestly, but respectfully. Don’t give dirty looks to the opposing party or the hostile witness, don’t stare down jurors or get angry under your breath, and don’t give the jury any reason to dislike you. Leave the rest of the trial preparation – every last detail – to us.