Getting Comfortable In Court

Post Authored By: Teresa Dettloff

One of the most intimidating parts of being a new lawyer can be stepping up in court on various cases. There is new terminology and procedure that can be anxiety inducing for new lawyers. However, there are several steps that you can take to get more comfortable appearing in court on cases, whether your case is set for status or for hearing on a contentious motion.

Be Prepared

Preparation is critical to ensuring that your court appearance goes smoothly. You should know the basic facts of the case and where the case is at procedurally, meaning what’s been filed, what’s outstanding, what you may be looking to file, and where you would like the case to go. This ensures that you will be prepared to answer any questions the judge may have and will give you an idea of what to ask for when you step up to the bench.

Anticipate What the Judge Will Ask

Knowing what a judge will want to know at a routine court appearance or at a motion hearing is something that takes time, and it varies by practice area. I find it helpful to think logically about what a judge may ask so that I can answer any questions that may arise. If you’re doing family cases, it is beneficial to know if the case is pre/post-decree, whether there are children involved, if the parties have been to mediation or if a guardian ad litem has been appointed, and if financial affidavits have been exchanged and completed. If you’re doing personal injury/medical malpractice work, it is beneficial to know if the parties are at issue, if discovery has been issued/answered, and if a list of treating physicians has been provided to defense counsel. Essentially, it is helpful to know the basic procedural history of the case and facts about the case that may affect how long a case will take to litigate, or if it triggers other procedural steps.

Confer with Opposing Counsel the Day Before

Prior to stepping up on a case, it’s helpful if you have had a chance to talk with the other attorney or attorneys to discuss what you would like to ask for. This will let you know if an attorney is going to ask for something you disagree with and gives you time to formulate a response. Also, if you can coordinate what works for a future court date, it can eliminate confusion when you’re at the bench.

Bring Essential Parts of the File

Having access to what’s been filed in your case or previous orders that have been entered is helpful if an issue arises about the procedural history of a case. Also, if you are arguing a motion, you should bring copies of the motions and responses, as well as copies of caselaw that you are citing to for the judge and opposing counsel.

Think about the Court Order

If you are drafting court orders in your practice, think about the language of the order prior to the court appearance. If you are a newer attorney, it may be helpful to bring sample orders to refer to if there is a specific issue that requires exact language. Certain words and issues, such as language regarding judgments and petitions for rule to show cause, have specific words and language that trigger certain outcomes, so accuracy is critical.

About the Author:

Teresa Detloff

Teresa Dettloff practices law in Chicago, Illinois and is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where she served as a lead article editor for the law journal. She is also a member of the United Nations Association Chicago Chapter.

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