Think of that first moment when you were hit with the realization that you were no longer treating the judge presiding over your current case with overstated dignity and respect just because you were a rookie, but because you realized that it’s integral part of the game. The intimidation of the judge may seem to have disappeared, but you recognized his or her crucial role in furthering your case not only in their own eyes, but in the eyes of opposing counsel, the jury and everyone else present.
This focused harmony between lawyer and judge is a skill that trial attorneys continue to perfect throughout their career. Just when you think it’s safe to let your guard down, the judge will find a way to slap you with a reminder of who is in charge.
So what can you do to ensure you maintain this perpetuate this much-needed connection with the judge? Here are a few ideas:
Play By The Rules
To start with, you want to be sure you avoid losing your credibility with any judge by following the rules and policies of the court. This includes showing up on time and being attentive. Don’t put yourself in a position where you’re trying to win back your status in the courtroom. Instead, focus on keeping it from the beginning.
Keep your cell phone turned off, ask for permission to search through notes and even ask other attorneys for insight on this particular judge’s preferences. By showing that you are familiar with the rules and are willing to bend to the judge’s inclination, you’re already ahead of the game.
Keep a Tight Opening Statement
Judges have advice for attorneys when it comes to an effective opening statement – use this time to tell your client’s story without getting weight down in evidence. While a few points of key evidence will undoubtedly come out in the opening statement, your main objective should be presenting a story to the jury in a way that makes them care what your defense is about.
When it comes to using technology during your opening statement, such as a PowerPoint presentation, remember not to sacrifice your relationship with judge and jury for an overproduced visual aid.
One of the best ways to avoid untimely surprises in the courtroom is to identify and acknowledge issues ahead of time. Then, be sure to communicate the circumstances of these issues to the judge as soon as possible. This includes letting the court know if you will be running late or explaining a position you may be taking in a specific case. By explaining why you need to take a particular position, you can mitigate the risk of causing awkwardness from the court.
It’s fairly common knowledge that judges do not appreciate surprises. Be sure to keep the court apprised of any relevant case material you believe to be applicable to your case. It’s also important for trial attorneys to do their best to explain why the court should not follow a specific jurisdictional authority instead of trying to hide differences that could come back to haunt them later.
Take Responsibility For Mistakes
No matter how hard you try, there may be instances when you end up damaging your credibility with the judge. You may inadvertently push a judge’s buttons or forget to ask for permission to take action. The best way to quickly recover from a situation like this is to acknowledge your mistake and apologize for it. Honesty goes a long way with judges and can often turn a mistake into a positive.