Robbins: Why I wear a suit to court |

Robbins: Why I wear a suit to court

You may have noticed that the Vail Valley is a casual place.

Even in the finest establishments, jeans are common, ski boots, even after dark, still clunk beneath fine linen tablecloths. It’s part of what we love about this place.

I have long observed that if you spy someone around town in suit and tie, it is likely either the headmaster of the Mountain School, the maître d’ of one of the above said fine dining joints, a tourist woefully out of cultural place, or else a lawyer heading off to court. Who else would sport a suit and tie, voluntarily at least?

When we first moved to Happy Valley 30 years ago, I wore a tie. I was used to it. In fact, in my prior life, practicing law in Southern California, I wore a suit and tie every single day. Even when the August heat was wilting. OK, not on the weekends.

The firm I was with was of the thick, upper-crusty type and favored hoity-toity. Tie bar that snugged beneath the knot and held it from your bobbing Adam’s apple, French cuffs and stylish links. Three-piecers were preferred. Shoes were hard and polished, the kind that make no purchase in our snowy climes.

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Back in the day, before I could afford an air-conditioned car, and air conditioning was an add-on, in July through October, in my three-piece “light” wool suits, my Honda, even with the windows thrown wide open, was a sauna.

So, out of habit, when I first arrived in Vail, while I quickly lost the suit, I kept the tie. Oxford shirt, khakis, and a tie were the daily uniform. Then I lost the tie and flaunted my open collars. Then I jettisoned the starched high-collar shirts, then lost the khakis. And now, the uniform, unless I’m on my way to court, is Levi’s and a casual button-down. Sometimes, in the summer, even shorts. Oh my.

But when I go to court, I dress as a guest of honor at a formal highbrow wedding. Neat suit. Tie cinched up tight. Lightly starched and pressed shirt. Shined brogues with thin, waxed laces that dance comically on ice.

But why?

Other lawyers, especially in laid-back Eagle County, often present themselves, their clients, and their cases in slacks and sportscoat. Many sport soft shoes. I have witnessed some attorneys — usually for short hearings — who have jettisoned the tie altogether. I have, my former formal self aghast, seen lawyers before the court in corduroy sports jackets with open-collar polo shirts beneath, and others in their formal costumes who did not wear socks.

While I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that, thank you — not for me.

But why?

There are three reasons, really, but first a quick diversion.

The way that I was brought up in the law is that a lawyer when addressing the judge does so as “Your Honor.” When I first started out in the law, I cannot recall any exception. Either you just spoke your piece without invoking the judge’s “name,” or else you prefaced it with, “Your Honor.” It was — and in my mind is — a sign of respect to both the judge and the system.

Over time though, what has crept into the lexicon before the court is calling the judge “Judge.” While there is nothing particularly wrong with that — and I have never witnessed a judge take visible offense — to my mind that falls with a hard clunk. “Judge” is a descriptive, and “Your Honor” is a sign of respect.

So back to suits and ties.

As I alluded to above, there are three reasons that I always wear one when before the court. First and foremost, it is out of respect. The courtroom is a serious place and should be taken seriously. Judges are overworked and underpaid. They are — most of them anyway — committed and underappreciated public servants. A suit and tie are a nod too, to our legal traditions which, although perhaps imperfect, are the best that any society has yet devised.

Second, taking my role seriously serves my client. If I am a distraction, it derails my client’s aims. My focus, and the court’s, should be laser-focused on what brought us to this particular dance.

Lastly, after all the years, a suit and tie are as comfortable to me as pads and a helmet to a footballer. What it says to me is “game time!”

Are there warm days when my collar chafes? Uh-huh. Days when my brogues may be cartoonish in the parking lot. Indeed. But would I show my face in a courtroom other than atop a suit and tie?

Nope. Not a chance.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices Of Counsel in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Caplan & Earnest, LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, and divorce, and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his email address at His novels, “How to Raise a Shark (an apocryphal tale),” “The Stone Minder’s Daughter,” and “Why I Walk so Slow” are currently available at fine booksellers.   

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