Impressing the Judge
Chancery Court Judge Larry Primeaux has a top ten list of tips for attorneys wanting to impress a judge while in court. The paralegal can play an important role in most of them. Let’s take today’s post as an example:
Know the law and have it handy.
Know the law that applies in your case. It’s never a bad idea to check on what the appellate courts have said most recently about whatever it is you are getting ready for trial. Even if you are an experienced, battle-scarred litigator, you can get blindsided by a rank, newly-minted lawyer if you don’t keep up. Complacency is stupidity in the guise of arrogance; it is intentional ignorance that often proves embarrasing, or worse.
Read the COA decisions every Tuesday afternoon and Supreme Court decisions every Thursday afternoon. When you run across something pertinent to a pending case, print out the decision, highlight the language you need, and stick the decision in your file. That way you’ll have it handy when you need it at trial. If you are too lazy to make time to read the decisions, subscribe to either the Ole Miss or MC law school briefing service and receive summaries via email after each handdown.
If you know that your case will involve an issue that is out of the ordinary, have your authorities copied and ready to give the judge. Don’t just read off a few case cites; have copies of the decisions to hand the judge. Some judges require you to give a copy to opposing counsel. When you have authorities at hand, it not only aids the judge in making the right decision, it also communicates to the judge in not-so-subtle fashion that you know you are on sound ground and have confidence that the law supports your position. Contrast that with the lawyer who, when asked what authority supports his position, replies “Well, I know there’s a case out there on point, judge, and if you give me about 10 days, I might be able to find it.”
Have your trial factors printed out and handy, with case cites. Use them as checklists to question your witnesses.
Implementing this tip will be no problem for the attorney with a good paralegal. In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional I include an entire chapter on preparing a trial notebook organized around the elements of a cause of action. Each element is supported by the evidence available to prove the facts that meet the requirements of the element. For item of evidence and each witness’s testimony the possible objections are anticipated and the relevant law cited with copies of the pertinent cases included. All element is cross-referenced to the exhibits and testimony; each exhibit cross-referenced to the elements it supports and the witness who will provide the foundation its admission into evidence. With the proper assistance from a professional paralegal, any attorney ought to be able to impress the judge and the jury with their professionalism. Even more important, that attorney is much more likely to win the case!
The really fortunate attorney will be able to bring the paralegal to court. As noted previously the good legal team can work as smoothly as a dance team both in the office and in the courtroom. If you both understand the case and have a well-organized notebook, objections to evidence (for example) are anticipated. The opposing attorney objects. Your attorney quickly explains the basis for admission of the evidence. The court asks for supporting law. The attorney (trying not to smile to broadly) reaching out her hand and you place into it three copies of the case the judge needs to see – one for the judge, one for opposing counsel, and one for your attorney. Smooth as wet butter!