Even after ample legal training and classroom work, actually appearing in court for the first time can be a little intimidating. If you’re a young attorney who’s facing this prospect right now, the first thing I want you to know is that you’re not alone in feeling nervous. It’s only natural to want to make a strong first impression, and many of the attorneys I’ve met in my career have confessed to similar jitters.
You’ll get through them, and appearing before judges will become old-hat. In the meantime, let’s work on some practical things you can do to ensure a positive first impression. The following tips come to me from long-time legal pros whom I’ve met and spoken with; I’ve summarized their top advice for new attorneys below.
How New Lawyers Can Make Strong First Impressions
When appearing before a judge, remember these things:
Check your demeanor. It’s really pretty simple: You want to be prompt, you want to be polite, and you want to be professional—even in your dealings with various courtroom staff. Remember that they are all professionals who have the judge’s respect, so they need to have yours, as well.
Make good use of your resources. Make sure you come to court equipped with knowledge of the technology that’s available in the courtroom, as well as some well-presented exhibits.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Sometimes a judge may say something that’s unclear. The simple solution is just to ask—much preferable to pretending like you understand, and then doing something wrong!
Don’t work too hard to blow people away with your brilliance. Make your points, and make them well—but also know how to quit when you’re ahead. Don’t make a fool of yourself—or waste the judge’s time—by trying to concoct elaborate or dramatic courtroom moments.
Treat your opposing counsel in a collegial way. Try to treat them with respect; let your arguments stand on their own, without feeling the need to embarrass anybody or swoop in for the kill.
Remember that all judges are different. Above all, just know that each judge is an individual, with specific preferences and courtroom standards. A willingness to be adaptable is perhaps the key asset for any novice attorney.
Hopefully these tips will help you build some confidence—and while you’re at it, let me also invite you to fortify your knowledge base with some of the excellent resources available through ACES.