Ben Brafman says being a good lawyer means being well dressed, well prepared, and sometimes saying no.
Celebrated New York City criminal defense lawyer Ben Brafman is an impressive figure when he strides into the courtroom with his custom-made shirts, suits by Ralph Lauren and Paul Stuart, classic ties, and collar pins. But he isn't one of New York's most successful lawyers because of his sartorial style. Selected by New York magazine in 1997 as the best criminal defense lawyer in New York, the 57-year-old Brafman has found success through his 30 years of legendary preparation, legal savvy, and disarming people skills.
But while he has successfully defended high-profile clients such as rapper P. Diddy (known then as Puff Daddy), the bulk of his work is in white-collar criminal defense. He also has represented scores of well-known people whose names never reach the media's attention.
Brafman sits down to talk to us about the importance of image, the effective use of humor, and courting the media.
Let's talk about the importance of standing out in our casual, dress-down environment.
Trial lawyers, particularly, have a certain image they need to maintain. But when the dot-com companies were flying high, lawyers thought they had to dress with a certain looseness to identify with their clients who were wearing jeans and T-shirts and spending millions in fees. It engineered a level of sloppiness that didn't bode well for the profession. I felt, if you represent a doctor, do you go into work in scrubs? Lawyers hold themselves out to have a level of knowledge and expertise that's different than the average citizen. So it's important that lawyers and businesspeople generally present themselves as professionals.
Give us a bottom-line benefit of standing out from the crowd.
I always wear a colorful tie and a collar pin with my suit - it's a way to express my personality. Johnnie Cochran and I were trying the Puff Daddy case, and there was huge buzz in the New York press. He graciously let me carry the ball. And when I initially addressed the jury, to ease the tension, I said, "My name is Ben Brafman. My cocounsel is Johnnie Cochran. The way you can tell us apart is that I always wear a pin in my collar." The humor helped everybody relax a little bit. Plus, it also took the issue of race out of the case because I separated the two of us not by the color of our skin but [by] my tiepin.