The Style Counsel

A Brief Case for the Briefcase

Attorney Douglas Hand isn't just superbly dressed—he also counts of-the-moment men's labels like Rag & Bone, 3.1 Phillip Lim, and Richard Chai among his clients. Which is why we've retained his services to bring you this series on courtroom style.
Photo: Everett Collection

Fred Williamson demonstrates the effectiveness of the statement briefcase. ('That Man Bolt,' 1973)

Your briefcase is not only a functional container for corporate secrets; it also carries a message about you professionally.1 Let yours be a well-expressed reflection of lawyerly skill and standing.

I’m reminded of a merger closing involving two public companies. The impressive closing room, full of exceptional attorneys and their clients, was awash with goodwill and anticipation for the moment of completion. When the lawyer delivering the critical finishing pieces of the merger (original signature pages to several of the final ancillary closing agreements) placed his beaten Eddie Bauer canvas satchel on the closing table to draw the signature pages out, the very dowdiness of his “briefcase” sort of sullied the whole affair. It was a palpable let down to what should have been a pristine moment of congratulations not only for the two companies, but for the hapless lawyer with the crappy bag.

I have had three briefcases virtually from the beginning of my career. A brown leather case from T. Anthony with a brass clasp; a black leather case with a silver locking clasp that Barneys put out in the ’90s (they likely still do); and a no-nonsense, very Bond-like ZERO Halliburton metal case. All share some handy similarities:

  1. 1. All have locks (if you are an attorney, you are carrying confidential information and attorney-client privileged communications, so the lock is essential—this should be obvious);
  2. 2. All are subtly monogrammed (this element also has a functional rationale, but mainly just looks sharp);
  3. 3. Not one of them has a strap that would allow me to throw the briefcase over my shoulder (because, quite frankly, then it would cease to be a briefcase and become luggage—and furthermore, who in their right mind would do this to their suit jacket?);
  4. 4. And all can fit a laptop, a few documents (100 pages), a couple of sections of the WSJ, and a few pens. You shouldn’t need more room than this. More room strays, again, from briefcase and into luggage and you shouldn’t need or want to take luggage into work unless you are traveling.

The leather cases have accordion bottoms, like legal redwelds, which expand if necessary.  I have both black and brown cases because I have a thing about my leathers matching, or at a minimum contrasting purposefully. So I prefer that belt, shoes, briefcase, and even watch band, if leather, are all in black or all in brown (or if you have oxblood and black or two tones on the shoes or belt you can built a bridge to the other color).

If you are involved in some of the highly confidential arts of transactional or litigation work, the metal case is a viable (as opposed to laughable) option. Just note that you’ll feel a need to modernize your wardrobe a touch to harmonize things. But make no mistake, it is a bold entrance you’ll make to covert business discussions in a slim-fitting Simon Spurr suit, black monkstrap shoes with silver buckles (perhaps even dress boots with side zippers?—I’m pressing), diver’s watch (think an aggressively metal Panerai, Breitling, or Blancpain), and high-end ZERO Halliburton briefcase. You can also get matching luggage, which is a pretty cool touch—but don’t overdo it or you risk straying into some form of ROBO-attorney ridiculousness.

Ignorantia juris non excusat.2

1. Lawyers commonly use briefcases to carry legal briefs to present to a court; hence the name.

2. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Douglas Hand is a New York attorney-at-law who currently represents Rag & Bone, Steven Alan, Phillip Lim, Richard Chai, and Rogan, among others. He has practiced in Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Paris, and Milan, and is on the Advisory Board of the CFDA’s Fashion Incubator Program and Fordham Law’s Fashion Law Institute. His firm, HBA LLP, is a member of the CFDA’s Business Services Network.

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  1. David says:

    Nice case – matching the shoes too. Is it wise to keep your jacket buttoned when kicking another guy’s ass like that?

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