Wednesday, January 05, 2005


12-31-04, on BART: Law suits

I’m riding the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train from SFO (San Francisco International Airport). This in itself is noteworthy. Until very recently, there was no reliable public transportation link to SFO. Why is it that cities with strong public rail transportation or subway systems, like New York, San Francisco and Chicago, have resisted running those rail systems out to their airports? I’ve heard tell that the taxicab lobbies have been that strong. Anyway, BART now very excitingly goes to SFO. The airport itself has undergone major renovation in the last few years, and pulling away from it on the airport tram link to the BART station, you see a a serpant’s nest of elevated highway ramps leading to a futuristic airport structure, not sprawling horizontally, but rising vertically, with four levels of roadway. It looks like something out of the Jetsons, or a Chuck Jones cartoon segment lampooning the mechanization of mankind to that industrial marching music theme. I’d hum it for you, but I haven’t figured out how to upload that sort of thing yet.

On the BART train, I spy a young man wearing a T-Shirt emblazoned with the slogan: “Suits make you look important!” The slogan is illustrated by a cartoon image of a well-dressed man in that distinctive late-1930s/early-1940s advertizing graphics style.

“Suits make you look important!” on a T-shirt is worth a smile, certainly, but the irony is not that this is on a T-shirt. That’s just typical post-modern merchandising. The real irony is that the well-dressed man pictured on the T-shirt is wearing a blazer or sport coat.

I myself will be wearing a tweed sport coat for the upcoming Association of American Law Schools (or AALS, pronounced “double-A-L-S”) Annual Meeting. (No elbow patches though -- what sort of walking cliché do you take me for?) You might say that tweed sport coats are the uniform of the academic establishment, but sartorial norms differ somewhat for professional schools – like law or business – whose mission is to churn out suited hordes of professionals. In doing my job of teaching soon-to-be-suits to bring suits, arguably I should wear a suit. Many of my colleagues do.

I would venture to say that law professors who wear suits in suit-optional settings, like Double-ALS, did not practice law all that long. I did – for 13 years – and got suit-wearing out of my system. One of the great things about my job – a few notches below coffee days, but definitely on the list – is that I don’t have to wear a suit if I don’t want to. I’ll just have to find some other way to make myself look “important!”

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