by Hon. Randall H. Warner
Hon. Randall H. Warner
is an Arizona Superior Court Judge
in Maricopa County.
This column provides tips from judges
on civil practice. If there are practice tips
you’d like covered – or if you are a judge
who would like to write a column –
write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
CIVIL PRACTICE POINTERS
Every motion, response
and reply should be well
and free from typos.
Reputations matter in the practice of law. They matter in your dealings with other lawyers, and they affect your credibility
in court. For new lawyers, this is a challenge—but also an opportunity. You’re a clean slate. From the very first time you file something
or appear in court, it’s your chance to build a reputation for integrity,
ability and professionalism. How you do
it is pretty easy.
Always bring your “A” game. It’s not
uncommon for a young lawyer to be
told to “just make an appearance” or
file something that’s “good enough.”
Don’t do it. While less-than-your-best
may make economic sense for that case,
it makes no sense for your career. It’s
your name on the filing, and you’re the
one who has to face the judge. So if
you’re perceived as a mail-it-in kind of
lawyer, it’s your reputation that suffers.
Whenever you appear in court,
whatever you write, it has to be your
best work, because people are sizing you up based on that work. That
means be fully prepared in court, even if you’re new to the case or just
covering for someone else. And it means every motion, response and
reply should be well written, spell-checked and free from typos. You
may have to eat some billable time, but it’s an investment in your reputation that will pay off in the long run.
Be scrupulously fair with facts and law. There is a difference between
what’s arguable and what’s fair. As lawyers, we’re trained to
make arguments, but if you’re a lawyer who consistently pushes
the limits of Rule 11, people start to hear you with skeptical
ears. When you make a factual statement, you want the judge
to review the evidence and think: “Yes, that’s exactly what the
evidence shows.” You don’t want him or her thinking: “Well, I
guess that’s technically accurate, but not really the whole story.”
You don’t have to be neutral; that’s not your job. But you can
be an advocate while still presenting a fair picture of what happened.
The same is true of case and statutory law. Ultimately, judges
read the law themselves. The judge may disagree with your
interpretation but shouldn’t come out thinking your view is a
stretch. Remember, the goal of advocacy is not to make arguments; it’s to persuade. Arguable lets you avoid sanctions. Fair
enhances your reputation and makes you a better advocate.
Present yourself like a lawyer to be taken
seriously. Treat every appearance and written filing as a first date. When you show up
to court, show up like you mean business.
Dress appropriately: Business casual, cocktail attire and hip-ster-chic all convey
the wrong message.
Stand when speaking (if you’re able)
or, if circumstances
require sitting, ask
permission from the
court. Speak respectfully and, by all
means, don’t yell at
the court (yes, it
happens). At all
times, keep your
should not just be error-free, but profes-sional-looking. Ever wonder why corporations spend millions on packaging and
branding? It’s because people make subconscious judgments based on how things
look. Everything in your filings—from
format to headings to text—conveys something about you, so make the message a
Demonstrate professionalism. Show respect
for counsel, witnesses and others in the
courtroom. Don’t interrupt another lawyer; when it’s your turn, you’ll be able to
address all his or her misstatements. And,
by all means, avoid any name-calling. Even
commonly used words like ridiculous,
desperate or disingenuous make the person
speaking them look petty and weak.
Finally, just because you say “with
all due respect” doesn’t mean you get
to say whatever you want. Sorry, Ricky