Lawyers and briefcases go hand-in-hand

Nothing says lawyer more than a briefcase. (Not even a six-figure student loan debt … ) A poker player would be doomed if he had a similar kind of tell. 

A briefcase is even called a briefcase because lawyers carried their briefs in them. The connection has been glamorized in TV and movies. Think of this scene:  A lawyer — angry at a judge’s decision — stuffing papers into his or her briefcase, snapping it shut and walking out of the courtroom.

We swear Paul Newman did that in “The Verdict.” Or maybe it was Al Pacino doing so in “And Justice for All.”

Wait … Maybe it was Matthew McConaughey in “Lincoln Lawyer.”

It’s why lawyers put a lot of thought into just what kind of a briefcase they carry. Some want the briefcase to help make them look smart, savvy and experienced. Indeed, some carry worn bags to give the impression that they’ve been there, done that.

From the baggage manufacturer Tom Bihn’s web site, one lawyer observed: “The beat-up bag was a cultural touchstone and a bit of fake humility. Partners felt it sent the message that they had been through years of trials.”

Check out Robert Duvall’s briefcase in “A Civil Action,” which he Scotch-Taped together because it was so old and battered.

The Orlando Sentinel, in a movie review, noted how the briefcase was a key part of the character’s makeup: “In his 45 years of practicing law, this man has learned every angle, every trick, every nuance of his business, and the people in his business respect him for that. They know that his pervasive grayness, like the rattiness of his briefcase, is deliberate, even studied.”

Briefcases are evolving because of the new tools that lawyers use. Today’s briefcases need to big enough to store laptops, cell phones, etc … Some lawyers have multiple bags, such as larger ones for litigation and smaller ones for every-day use.

Plus, they can be expensive. A Shinola Men’s Leather Bag Double Zip Brief goes for $995. Korchmar’s Litigator - Black Leather Wheeled Catalog Case costs $555. (“Great briefcase. Perfect for court,” one reviewer noted.) 

It’s why you see so many opinions on them.

From Reddit:

“I've got an older version of this Briggs and Riley which has done me well. Holds all your everyday stuff (laptop, cables, pens, papers etc.) plus about 6-inch worth of binders. Current daily bag is a Topo Mountain briefcase in black which has been a fun change.”

The search for the perfect briefcase is even more challenging for women, apparently. Many search for ones that are functional as well as feminine.

On the web site Capital Hill Style, one law school student wrote: “I am a rising 3L in law school. I’m looking for a nice bag to carry to court to hold my planner, iPad, wallet, and case file. All the bags I’ve looked at look too masculine and/or are crazy expensive (love Furla but I can’t afford a $500 bag right now).”

One person responded, noting the demands briefcases face: “I travel for work a lot and need a bag that can hold my client file, laptop, wallet, and Kindle but that is also sturdy enough to handle the rigors of being carried, shoved under airplane seats, and tossed into TSA bins and still look chic when I am in client meetings. And all for a decent price, of course!”

And here’s another opinion on briefcase requirements: “I’m a mid-level law firm associate and I look for: (a) lots of small pockets to fit pens, phones, chargers, stationary, business cards, makeup, and large segmented sections for paper/files, shoes, etc; (b) thick straps; and (c) good quality leather.”

One advised women to go light: “One thing to really consider when buying a bag is the WEIGHT. As ladies, an extra pound of bag to carry can get annoying very fast. I bought a really nice Coach tote before my first year at a big NYC law firm and with all the walking/commuting, I ended up using a cheap nylon tote more because it weighed so much less.”

One lawyer got so fed up with not finding the right briefcase that he actually started a company that makes briefcases. Andrew Lynch launched Jackson Wayne Leather Goods to recreate the classic look of briefcases from the 1920s and 30s.

"I got tired of feeling like I was basically renting my briefcase because I had to replace it every couple of years," Lynch said in a news release on the company’s founding. "Yet, I couldn't wrap my head around spending $1,000 to $2,000 for a bag, even if it meant higher quality," he said.

His grandfather owned a cattle ranch, which is where Lynch learned about the making of quality leather.

“Our materials are intentional, choosing to use only the Top 1% of leather,” his web site notes. “We source U.S. steerhides like my Grandpa raised. And we use solid brass hardware – nearly unheard of these days. Each design is meticulously thought out, tested, retested and refined with perfection as the aim. We want our customers to own something of substance and cherish it for years to come.”