Should I Tell the Court About My Mutton Chops?

Q Painting of associate justice George Shiras, Jr.I’m a lawyer in a small firm in the southeast. I’m also an aspiring actor and have been involved in the local theater since I moved here. I recently received a great part in a local production of Oliver!, the musical based on Charles Dickens’s book Oliver Twist. I play Mr. Bumble, the town beadle. The problem—at least incidentally—is that the director is a stickler for certain details and insists that I sport authentic and prodigious mutton chops, which I’ve grown over the last six months to prepare for the role.

Obviously, I also practice law and go to court. My colleagues, despite some teasing, have been good-natured and supportive and have stepped in for me when we thought my mutton chops would make one of our client’s uncomfortable.

But I do have an appearance before the court next week, before a judge who I am told is a stickler for decorum. The client insists that I represent it—my client is a regional arts organization so is perfectly fine with my appearance. I’m concerned, however, that the mutton chops will offend the judge. Should I tell the court clerk in advance why I’m sporting them, just to avoid something embarrassing? Good idea?

A No, terrible idea. It’s not as if the court clerks won’t notice your authentic prodigious mutton chops and talk about them back in chambers before your case is called or before you make your appearance. Or, knowing most court clerks, say something along the lines of “what’s with the lamb chops, counsel?” Explain it then if you must, but calling further attention to them on your own just makes it worse, especially if you do it directly to the judge (“Umm, before I start, your honor, about the matter of the mutton chops . . . .”) Doing that makes it appear that you lack confidence.

Just do what you would normally do as a non-mutton-chopped lawyer: appear, make your argument, sit down, look intelligent. If the judge questions your side whiskers, what’s the harm in explaining that you happen to be playing the beadle Mr. Bumble in the very lovely local production of Oliver!, Fridays at 7 and Saturday matinees at 2. Hell, encourage the judge to come on down to the theater to take in a show. Well, maybe not do that.

The problem for lawyers with something that does not seem to be “in the norm” is that they always seem compelled to call attention to it. Y’know, apologize for stammering, explain why you have a bandaid across your nose, call attention to the fact you forgot your heels at the office and are wearing Crocs, etc. Don’t give in to that. Walk in proud, move forward as if every good lawyer sports mutton chops. Just don’t wear the beadle hat. Good luck.

Update: Prior to this being published in Bitter Lawyer, the writer wrote to inform us:

Things went fine. In fact, once the case was called, the judge asked counsel to state their appearances for the record. After I stated mine and sat down, the judge said ‘Thank you, Mr. Bumble, now please proceed.’ It turns out she had seen the production a week earlier.

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