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Black rocks

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I’m not sure what it is about seeing a litigator dressed in a black suit with a chartreuse polka-dot tie that sends my heart aflutter. It can’t be the chartreuse tie; the same thing happens with aqua, teal, and hot pink. It must be the black suit. Yes, that’s it. There is something about black. It’s so “take-no-prisoners”, so “I totally, completely, and unequivocally fit in”, so—well—so black.

And I’m happy to report that this undertaker look seems to be on the rise among hot-shot trial lawyers. And semi-hot-shot courtroom wannabes, too, for that matter.

This is especially true when a litigator has to meet up somewhere with another, opposing litigator, called a “bad guy.” Say at a deposition or a negotiation or in court.

To set the record straight right up front, there’s nothing that awful about bad guys, really. If you bumped into one at a gala dinner of the International Rottweiler Owners Association or even at your kid’s Saturday soccer match, you’d be perfectly comfortable chatting with him, at least until you found out he was one of the bad guys. Even then, a chat would be fine. Deep down, the good guys know full well that a bad guy is really just one of the guys. But calling him a bad guy remains de rigueur.

The confusing thing is that a good guy who is on the other side is actually a bad guy if you’re one of the good guys, and a bad guy on your side is really a good guy, even if you’re one of the bad guys (good guys?). Somehow even the average guys seem to keep it all straight. It’s so necessary that they do keep it all straight, as this is a very important part of litigating. And, of course, it makes everyone feel better to do some finger pointing.

Anyway, when a good guy and a bad guy are in a room together, say at a video-taped deposition of an inventor, they definitely are both going to do the mortician thing—the black suits and pastel ties—that takes my breath away. And this isn’t just a matter of appearance. No, sir. The good guy and the bad guy actually perform better in black. And, honestly you’re just less likely to stand out in a crowd of black suit guys if you’re wearing basic black. You know: “I see by your outfit that you are a …”

The poor videographer faces a conundrum, though. He generally is not supposed to appear IN the video. Unless something odd is going on in the deposition room. Okay, maybe he appears in a corner of the frame when he reaches for one of those cheese and bean quesadillas left over from lunch. But it’s only for a moment, so it isn’t clear whether he has to wear the obligatory black suit. Ditto the guy who slipped into the room to put the vegetarian lunch wraps and seltzer on the side board.

This good guy-bad guy mix-up probably explains why you never see one of these hot shot litigators dressed in a white suit with a chartreuse tie. A white suit sure seems like a good way to signal he is one of the good guys. But the bad guys (good guys?) on the other side would become hopelessly confused or start tittering. It’s probably just as well. I mean, try walking into a courtroom wearing a white suit.

The puzzling thing is that these litigator guys wouldn’t be caught dead in a black suit when they are dropping by Starbucks for one of those $8.95 Iced Caramel Macchiato’s. No way. They know the black suit would look dumb and be wildly uncomfortable. And the tiny spilled specks of that cinnamon whipped cream would leave grotesque grease spots in the most unfortunate places. So in Starbucks, they wear cutoffs and flip flops like any other self-respecting American consumer.

Every so often some Neanderthal litigator makes the mistake of violating the strict black and chartreuse dress code. He shows up in a dark gray suit or a dark dark gray suit. Or a dark navy suit (which frankly is pretty hard to tell from a dark dark grey suit). Or he enters the conference room sporting an aquamarine or malachite tie.

Disgusting.