It is natural that young lawyers are afraid of court hearings. Nobody taught them how to behave in court. They only got general tips on what to say and what to wear in the courtroom. However, they are not prepared to meet with much more experienced lawyers, many of whom have entered the profession before the young lawyers were born. Under such conditions, the awareness of responsibility for representing the interests of the client can be particularly distressing. Below are a few golden rules that can be helpful for young lawyers starting their careers.
#1 Your reputation is all you have
The most obvious principle you must keep in mind is that your reputation is crucial to your career. Therefore, you need to be careful what you say and how you behave. This rule applies to all actions you take in court, to court officials, in cooperation with the opposing party's representative or in dealing with the client. Your words and behavior affect your reputation and your client's reputation.
Be honest about the facts of your case. Do not embellish or hide. Give the court facts - reveal them fully and honestly. All you can do is present them in the best light possible. You have to make an impression, but make it a good one.
#2 Be always on time
This is a rule, the violation of which can cost you and your client a lot. Being late is rude and means disrespect to the court and all who are waiting. You are not the only lawyer with deadlines, demanding clients, and e-mails or calls waiting for an answer.
Remember the countless potential obstacles to getting to court in time, including weather, traffic, security checkpoints and the lift, and include them in the schedule. But if you do not make it despite the best efforts, just call the court secretariat or the opposing party's attorney and tell them that you will be late. You do not want to leave the impression that you have a style like that.
After arriving at the court, find out what cases are on schedule before yours. Thanks to this, before your case is called, you will be ready to enter the courtroom.
3# Be polite and play fair
Litigation is filled with conflicts, emotions and stress, so it is inevitable that someone will say something that you think is offensive. Ignore him and do not lose sight of your goal. Responding to taunts will only turn against your client. Act fairly when you win and act correctly when you lose. Do not put on an offensive face mask. The judge knows you are disappointed when you lose, but he expects you to respect the system. No matter what the outcome of the case is, be mature.
If you practice in civil proceedings, remember that a large proportion of cases can be resolved before the trial. Being polite to the opponents' plenipotentiaries is important because you will probably have to work together on some other occasion to reach an agreement.
Do not try to embarrass your opponent. When you are embarrassed, the best way to disarm your opponent is your peace of mind. Do not let older lawyers intimidate you. Resist the temptation to respond to opponent's comments and always speak directly to the court.
Everyone makes mistakes, including professional representatives. If your opponent stumbles on the procedure, think about whether you can ignore his mistake, while correcting any misunderstandings that it might have resulted in. The time will come inevitably when you need little grace. Just treat others the way you want to be treated.
#4 Dress like a professional
Personally, I never want someone to think about my clothes instead of listening to what I have to say. If you want to be taken seriously, dress seriously. Jeans are never a good idea. They are as unprofessional as a red miniskirt and high heels. If you are a man, your "uniform" should be a suit and a tie. In the case of women there is more choice, but it is always better to stay with a conservative outfit. Your personal appearance in court is part of reflection on the entire legal profession.
#5 Be prepared
You can be the best lawyer in the world, but if you are not prepared that day, well, you are just not a good lawyer that day. You do not have to be the smartest, you just have to be the best prepared. I will tell you more - you will never be the smartest, the most experienced or the most eloquent. However, if you know your case better than your opponent, you have made the first step to success.
As a young lawyer, you will be asked to substitute your colleagues in "simple" court cases. You can hear: "It's a simple case, just put it into your calendar." Trust me, regardless of what you hear, make sure you know the case and are aware why you appeared at the court. You should know: what is going on, what has already been determined, what remains to be determined, what are the expected effects, and never, never say "I do not know, I am only a substitute."
You must listen to what is happening in the court room and take an active part in the case. Do not focus only on what you previously prepared in writing. You need to know your arguments well enough to modify it if necessary.
If you are not prepared, you should better just say it. Never try to answer questions that you really do not know the answer to. Ask for a deadline for doing it. Honesty is important.
#6 Focus on what is important
Discourage unnecessary court disputes. Convince your client to compromise whenever it makes sense. Explain to him that the nominal winners often lose out with fees, expenses and waste of time. Do not fight trivial problems or technical trivialities. Engage only in those battles that matter to your client and actually affect the success of the case.
Do not submit applications just to prove how clever you are. Judges appreciate when the parties at least try to work out the terms of the agreement before they go to court. Therefore, show that you have done your part of the work, trying to reach a settlement with your opponent before you turned to legal aid. A quick way to lose credibility is to flood the court with applications, because then you increase the court's burden. Overactive lawyers make an impression of being unreasonable.
#7 Be honest with yourself
You will hear a lot of good advice. Although it is worth listening to them, do not try to become someone you are not. Build your skills around your personality. Discover your own "legal personality" by observing how respected attorneys and judges speak and act. In legal professions we have a great tradition of sharing best practices - it is worth using it. However, do not follow the style of someone else blindly, but build your own.
The transition from legal studies to legal practice is not easy. You will struggle with the conviction that you can not properly advise clients because you are half the younger than them. However, you have the right to be confident even if you are inexperienced. Find ways to build trust in yourself - one of them is thorough preparation for the case. Make sketches and notes that will help you handle the case in court. Practice even the simplest statements, with yourself, with friends and even with laymen, so that you really "immerse yourself" in a given problem. The court has a limited time to judge you, your appearance and your argument. So, before you appear in court, think about these tips.
You may also like:
E. K. Barton, To the Young Lawyer: Tips for Court Appearances, IDC Quarterly | Volume 24, Number 2 (2014).
J. W. Quinn, A judge’s view: things lawyers do that annoy judges; things they do that impress judges, http://www.oba.org/en/pdf/JudgesView.pdf.