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Preparing for Your First Civil Trial, Part Three: Meeting the Judge

By Jennifer L. Saulino, Maureen R. Knight, and LaQuita S. Wornor

At some point in the early stages of the trial process, you will meet your judge. Be careful about your first impression. Even if it is a simple status conference, set yourself up as the kind of lawyer the judge can trust to be straight and honest and always to know the rules. The best way to do this is to study the rules ahead of time, know the posture of your case completely, and consider ahead of time the questions the judge might ask—such as questions about schedule.

Be Sure to Listen
You must be ready with reasoned answers to any of the judge’s questions, but you must also ready to be reasonable if the judge wants a different solution. Always listen to the judge. Do not just think nervously about the next thing you planned to say. Just as in any social relationship, the easiest and quickest way to establish that you respect the judge is to show you really listen to what she has to say. In the end, always be willing to recognize when you have lost and move on.

Mind Your Manners
The early arguments over schedule, discovery scope, and other aspects of the case are important, but keep your eye on the trial. Annoying the judge early by acting like a sore loser who will not drop a point will not serve you well when you need consideration from the judge during trial—and you inevitably will. Be sure to use the social graces Miss Manners taught you when you were young. Indeed, one of the authors found herself in a conference in the judge’s chambers after several grueling days of argument over various pretrial issues. The judge had brought the lawyers donuts and juice. The teams of senior lawyers were so busy jockeying for position at the conference table that they failed to graciously attend to the judge’s generosity. When Jennifer said “Judge, thank you for the kind gesture, may I have a donut?” the judge smiled broadly and treated her well throughout the coming days. Remember, judges are people too.

Allocate Your Resources Effectively
The introduction to your judge aside, many of the pointers we offer for initial trial preparation (see the previous articles on where and how to begin and depositions) could easily be put off until the end of the case, when you have a better idea whether your case will go to trial. But by that time, it may be too late to fully perform all of them without significant expense of time, resources, and sleep—all of which, at that point, are better allocated to preparing the actual trial-related tasks. These discovery tools will ensure that you are always ready for the decisive moments in the case, even if those moments do not come at trial. Instead you will be ready to incorporate key exhibits and testimony into your summary judgment brief or show compelling pieces of trial evidence to your opponent during settlement negotiations.

Keywords: Trial procedure, trial preparation, judges.

Jennifer L. Saulino is with Covington & Burling LLP, Maureen R. Knight is with Constangy Brooks & Smitth LLP, and LaQuita S. Wornor is with Frost Brown Todd LLC.


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