TOP TEN TIPS TO IMPRESS A CHANCELLOR AT TRIAL: #1

October 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

This is the tenth and last in a series counting down 10 common-sense practice tips to improve your chancery court trial performance. If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, some of these are familiar. That’s okay. They bear repeating because they are inside tips on how to impress your chancellor, or at least how to present your case in a way that will help her or him decide in your favor.

TOP TEN TIP #1 …

Be Professional. Safeguard your reputation with the court.

Being professional is a combination of a lot of traits that include preparation, punctuality, competence, and a professional demeanor. Here is a bulleted list of some things to bear in mind:

  •  Be on time. It is rude in the extreme to keep the court and everyone else waiting while you mosey your way to the court house. Some judges hate it so much that they treat it as contempt. UCCR 1.05 specifically says, “When any civil action has been set for, or adjourned to, a particular hour, all officers, parties , witnesses and solicitors [ed.’s note: solicitor is the old-fashioned term for a practitioner in chancery court] whose presence is necessary for the trial shall be present promptly at the time set. Any negligent or willful failure to obey this rule shall be punished by contempt.” Even if you aren’t found in contempt, why start off on the wrong foot with your judge?
  • Avoid histrionics. You are not in chancery to impress a jury with your dramatic skills or oratorical flourishes. Most judges I know find that sort of showboating to be off-putting.
  • Be respectful of the court. Even when the tide is flowing strongly against you, be courteous and respectful to the judge. When you show disrespect, you are acting contrary to your role as officer of the court. UCCR 1.01 states that “The dignity and respect of the court will be preserved at all times.”
  • Be prepared. Have your exhibits ready, your trial notes in order, and your witnesses on hand and briefed. have any statutes or case law in shape to present at the appropriate time.
  • Be courteous to opposing counsel. Sometimes this is easier said than done, I know, but make the effort.
  • Observe all of the requirements of UCCR 1.01.

Safeguard your reputation with the court as if it were a cache of precious gold. Your reputation with the court is in essence how the judge assesses your truthfulness, reliability, candor, competence and integrity. It is a treasure built up over time in your dealings with the court. Some lawyers squander their treasure by making false excuses or misleading statements to the court, by levelling false accusations against opposing counsel, by missing court appearances, by doing sloppy, unprepared work in pleadings, discovery and trial, and by being unprofessional as spelled out above. Don’t misspend your treasure that way.

Keep your promises. If your word is not your bond, you really should consider finding another line of work. When you tell the judge you are going to do something, do it. And if it becomes genuinely impossible, let the judge know right away. Don’t tell opposing counsel a case is settled unless it is, and don’t make promises you can’t keep or have no intention to keep.

Never even suggest anything improper to a judge. I can not think of any more instantaneous way to destroy — probably irreparably — your credibility with a judge than to make even a suggestion of impropriety. A hint of a quid pro quo, an ex parte suggestion for a favorable ruling or criticism of the other party or attorney, and the like are poison for your reputation with the court.   

Your work product speaks volumes about your competence. If your pleadings are sloppily done and make no sense, your arguments are incoherent, and your witnesses make no sense, you have no one to blame but your own sloppy self when the judge turns her nose up at them. Take pride in your work. Make sure it’s right and well-presented. Make a favorable impression on the court. I can assure you that it is a true pleasure to take the bench and try a case that is well-presented by capable lawyers who know what they are doing and have given the court clear pleadings, authority and testimony on point. And I can equally assure you that it is agony to try a case where the lawyers fall considerably short of that mark.

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§ 2 Responses to TOP TEN TIPS TO IMPRESS A CHANCELLOR AT TRIAL: #1

  • randywallace says:

    Very true. The practice of law and keeping your professional reputation intact should be viewed as a marathon rather than a sprint. One instance of a lack of integrity can and usually will follow a lawyer for life.

  • tripletlaw says:

    This is great. I really cherish your blog posts and take them to heart.

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