After all my upstairs and downstairs at the High Court, and a trip to the Department of Justice, I bounded over to a shop nearby, also in Admiralty, with the very haughty English name of Jarvis & Kensington to sort out my “legal attire.” In addition to passing exams, and tedious paperwork, yes, you need to find yourselves the proper dress for court.
For the typical American lawyer, we have essentially no concept on what that might mean. But don’t worry, the Law Society does issue memos ont he matter, especially since the Chief Judge has complained about “casual and improper attire” that undermines these “solemn court proceedings” where “basic etiquette must be observed.” After all “[f]ailure to complay indicates a lack of respect both for the court and the profession and will not be tolerated.” CJ’s words, not mine!
But proper dress goes beyond your usual suit — indeed, they involve robes, a dark suit, and a white shirt with “winged collar and bands (or suitable equivalent for ladies.” When I popped down to J&K, I learned quite a bit more about this dress code from the very knowledgeable Lisa, who took her craft very seriously.
She showed me the different shirt options – and it turns out, you can either get a whole shirt styled with these hanging thingies off a peculiar collar, or you can actually get a velcro-attached piece that acts as a fake sort of shirt. And the ladies’ equivalent is one that has some pretty lace. (I opted for that — after one of my favorite SCOTUS judges, Ruth Bader Ginsburg!)
Robes are fairly standard — generally black, though there are some special colored robes for barristers of special rank or special occasions. The more special you are, the more special your robes. Of course that means we boring solicitors get the plainest robes of all.
They aren’t all that embarrassing to wear, it turns out, and are based on your height. Its flowy nature means most any size can fit into robes.
Lisa told me I could get slightly shorter robes as ladies do like to show off a bit of leg, but I chose to get the standard size for my height. I figured my boyfriend could probably borrow them the day he gets admitted (yes, he likely will go through the same horrid process — but with my help, of course).
And what about my wig, you ask? Alas no, this is just something only barristers wear (thankfully!), although it is a practice still alive and well in Hong Kong!
Altogether, with the student discount Lisa thought my young mien deserved, the robes and the “white thing,” as I call it, cost about US$270.
Solicitors do not have the same rights of audience (this is something Americans would have no clue about, but perhaps most of you Commonwealthers are familiar with) as barristers, and really rarely require legal attire since they are rarely speaking in court. Thus, it seemed kind of silly that I be making such an expensive and rarely used purchase. However, the Queens Counsel in our firm insisted that the firm foot the bill, since owning one’s first set of robes was meant to be rather special. Not turning down free clothes, even if they are quite costumey, I consented to the purchase (and its reimbursement!).
BTW, for those of you who don’t need gowns on a regular basis (solicitors who do insolvency matters or otherwise appear before magistrates frequently, or plan to make an application for higher rights, as will be the case in Hong Kong soon) can rent them here for HK$ 500 as well.
And now all that was left to do was wait for my special day!