Five Sure-fire Ways to P*** off Your Chancellor

June 2, 2016 § Leave a comment

It should go without saying that chancellors have god-like powers over your cases, and it behooves you (and your client) to respect those powers when it comes to interactions with the court.

There are some irascible chancellors, I will grant you. But in my experience the great majority are sympathetic, patient, focused on doing the right thing the right way, and interested in improving practice in their courts.

So, whether you are dealing with a splenetic judge or one with the disposition of Saint Teresa, you want to be sure you avoid behaviors that will be sure to get you on the chancellor’s bad side.

Here are my top five:

5.   Being chronically late for court. Everyone has occasional emergencies that affect the ability to be on time, but when it’s chronic, it’s an annoyance beyond measure. Your judge may have a higher pain threshold than I, but to me being late merely because you’re late is an ultimate insult not only to the judge, but also to everyone else involved in the case. It communicates that you consider yourself more important than anyone else awaiting your arrival, and I assure you that, in that situation, you will be the only one there who agrees with your opinion. If you find yourself being late more than on rare occasions, you’d best do some rearranging of your priorities and your ways of doing business.

4.  Not learning from your mistakes. It gets tiresome having to deal with the same lawyers making the same mistakes over and over, such as late and incomplete accountings, improper process, failure to comply with discovery orders, and failure to present orders after being ordered to do so, to name only a few. It’s not the judge’s job to pull your irons out of the fire. And if it’s a contested case, it would be improper for the judge to aid one side or the other. If this is your problem, don’t be surprised if one day the judge loses patience, throws her hands up, and says, in effect, get your own self out of this mess; I’m not doing it any more.

3.  Being unprepared. You have to ask the court to delay your divorce or modification hearing to give you time to throw together an 8.05. Or you try to convince the judge to take a particular position, but you don’t have any case law to cite because you haven’t done a lick of research. Or you have to ask for a continuance because your pleadings are not in order. Or you neglected to tell your client to be there for court. These are not only symptoms of unpreparedness; they also indicate lack of competence. Once you convince the judge that you are unprepared and/or incompetent, you can expect that everything you do will be carefully scrutinized, slowing down your ability to get things done for your clients.

2.  Being disrespectful. We all have bad days in court. Those are compounded when the judge has one, too. No matter the outcome, it is your professional duty as a lawyer to suck it up, keep your thoughts to yourself, and show respect. Like a bell that can not be unrung, a snide or flip comment will continue to resonate with your judge long after you regretted saying it. Likewise, being disrespectful of opposing counsel, opposing party, witnesses, and anyone else involved will diminish you, and not the object of your disdain. Arrogance is a trait best left at your office.

1.  Lying. This is the cardinal sin — the one that may earn you years of or even permanent distrust from your chancellor. Never lie even when the truth will hurt. If you’re in the wrong, admit it and ask the court’s indulgence. Lame excuses sound like lies and often are. If you find out that something you represented to the court turns out to be untrue, get with the judge as soon as possible to straighten it out.

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