Three Tips for the First Year Lawyer’s Court Appearance in Domestic Relations

Post Authored By: Jonathan Standeford

Swimming in the deep end is a lot of fun when you know how to swim. Unfortunately, when you are heading into your first hearing or pre-trial without another attorney for aid, you may start to realize your lack of “floaties”, or that you are much too far from touching the bottom.

As I near the end of my first year as an associate attorney, the experience I received from my law firm to learn and advance as a professional has been extraordinary. However, no experience is complete without a hint of “am I doing this right?” A professor in undergrad once said to me, “If you ever walk into your job and you’re not nervous, you need to stop working in that profession because you’ve lost the passion.” While nervousness may be a constant, I am grateful to have learned some tips on how to swim more confidently in the legal waters, and I can share some of those tips now for a first-year lawyer’s early court appearances in domestic relations.

First, prepare as though you could be sued.

The quote “failure to prepare is preparing to fail” is true, especially in law. If you fail to make time to prepare your case and become familiar with the issues in court, you may likely find yourself lost for words, or making arguments that are not relevant to the issue before the court.

This is especially true for your first hearing or pretrial without another attorney. Preparing your case takes many stages: from reviewing discovery, reading pleadings, and becoming aware of what the judge has previously ordered regarding the pending issues. Knowledge of your exhibits and facts will help you familiarize your case to the point that you can independently form argument, sometimes on the fly, without searching for through each document you have before a judge who may be losing their patience.

Second, discuss your case with your colleagues.

The ability to explain your case to someone who knows little about what is happening is a monumental step. Conferencing with another attorney is an often-overlooked step that you can take which will allow you to present your facts, make argument, and ultimately discover if you have prepared enough to proceed on your own. Additionally, a second set of eyes and ears beforehand may help you see important facts which may have been omitted; if your argument could be made in the alternative; or, how opposing counsel would respond during the hearing. Speaking clearly with a colleague about a case will help you become more acquainted with your case and help you promote clear and confident arguments before a judge who may not have such rapport with you as your opposing counsel. In addition, your colleague may be able to offer insight about your  judge. It never hurts to know the judge’s temperament, preferences, and standing order when you first appear in their courtroom.

Third, review past orders and the law.

Familiarizing yourself with the orders of the court is a necessity. This will allow you to argue what is relevant and before the court on any certain appearance. Orders will denote if you are appearing for a hearing or a status which could be a large difference on how you approach preparing. Some judges will allow argument at a status, while other judges may not tolerate such at all. The combination of knowing the judge and past orders will intersect at this junction.

Further, be knowledgeable of the relevant statutes that are in effect regarding the issue before the court. Many of the laws will intertwine and refer to other parts of the law that must be reviewed as it could contain exceptions, required elements, or restrictions on applicability.

Ultimately, the best thing a first-year attorney can do to shake off some their nerves going into one of their earlier hearings or pre-trial is to (1) Prepare, (2) Discuss, and (3) Review. These three tips will allow you to present a clear and concise argument before the court in a confident manner.  See you in the deep end.

About the Author

Jonathan Standeford is an associate with Feinberg Sharma in Chicago, which focuses exclusively on family law matters. Jonathan received his undergraduate degree at Western Michigan University and his J.D. at UIC John Marshall Law School.

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