In a world that is changing rapidly, there any many things that have been quite ordinary for decades or even centuries that become outdated overnight. Things become obsolete often without anyone outside of specialized industries ever knowing it, but there are also those useful tools that persist on through the age of technological advancement. One tool that has a bit of nostalgia associated with it would be the simple briefcase. It’s been associated with the law profession for ages, but do lawyers still use briefcases?
The briefcase is probably a lawyer’s iconic signature item. They help organize important documents, and helps them carry their other tools of the trade. While the briefcase is not as widely used as it may have been in the past, there are still good reasons many lawyers choose to still carry a briefcase to appear more professional as well as for functional reasons. While the use of a briefcase has changed somewhat, the functionality has not gone away.
There are tools and accessories that go along with every profession. A carpenter has a hammer, a mechanic has a wrench, and a lawyer has a briefcase. The signature style of a profession tends to communicate a message about the reality of the work taking place. It would be unbecoming of the queen of England to wear jeans and a hoodie to the ceremonies that go along with her royal position in life, and to replace her royal scepter with a wooden dal rod. That would basically be the equivalent of a lawyer showing up in the courtroom with a standard school backpack. Yes, they effectively do the same thing, but they signify something completely different about the person using it.
We live in a more casual world than our ancestors, but we still hold onto some active and subconscious biases. We expect professionals to not only act the part, but also to look it. We expect even the things we use for utility to somehow conform to the work environment we find ourselves in and not appear to be out of place. This isn’t a new idea in the slightest. It goes back long before the “stuffy” 1950’s, and further still than Victorian England. It’s actually an ancient philosophical idea called the “virtue of decorum” to make the outward appearance of a thing in some sense match (or be useful to) the situation or event. It may strike the more utilitarian among us as a vain leftover from days gone by, but aesthetics, in at least a crude form, has been an important part of nearly every culture since ancient times and that doesn’t appear to be changing any time in the near future.
There is nothing substantially wrong with a backpack for carrying important documents, stationary, or transporting a laptop that allows a lawyer to access important files, emails, etc., but many lawyers see a briefcase as a better solution just because it has a distinctly adult connotation in our consciousness. When one thinks of a backpack, school is usually the first thing to come to mind. It can make even a well dressed and professional looking lawyer appear juvenile in many cases, but a briefcase subconsciously signifies that a person means business. Nobody sees a briefcase and subconsciously thinks “school kid”.
Lawyers have to be taken seriously as part of their job, and presenting oneself in a way that could potentially make others see them as less professional could have very real world consequences. Something as simple as appearance can drive away clients, influence how much one’s colleagues respect them, and even subconsciously influence how a jury may feel about the legitimacy of an argument. Whether we like it or not, people make judgement calls about others based on their appearance, even if they themselves don’t fully realize it.
Aside from the stylistic aspects and the professional appearance of a briefcase, there are several practical functions of a briefcase that make it a much better option for lawyers than alternative methods of carrying important items to and from work. Principle among these is ease of carry. Lawyers don’t tend to walk long distances carrying their tools. A short walk from the office or courtroom to the car tends to be the longest distance a lawyer will have to transport their equipment. This means a simple briefcase with a handle or a shoulder strap at most is not only sufficient, but optimal for its purpose. Clumsy arm straps or a bulky backpack would only get in the way of a lawyer’s work and movement from place to place.
Secondarily, many briefcases are designed with the needs of a lawyer directly in mind. Having appropriately sized pockets for things like laptops, cell phones, folders, and stationary isn’t something that should be overlooked. Ease of access to one’s equipment simply makes life easier, and in our fast paced world we tend to realise that our precious time adds up rather quickly. It is also worth pointing out that there is a wide variety of briefcases lawyers may decide to use based on their personal preferences or needs. There is everything from a soft leather briefcase with multiple pockets for those who like a bit more built in organization to hard shell briefcases with only one main compartment for everything in one place.
Conclusion – Do Lawyers Still Use Briefcases?
The law profession is hardly a stationary job, though it can be for some lawyers, especially compared to other types of work. A lawyer has to be able to transport the essential tools of the trade easily and quite rapidly at times. It’s important to have everything a lawyer needs easily accessible and in one convenient place that can be carried anywhere. This really makes carrying a briefcase an indispensable part of a lawyers daily life, which is why so many people in the law profession make the decision to continue carrying this iconic accessory.