Courtroom Etiquette

I had the privilege of attending a webinar regarding courtroom etiquette on March 17th, hosted by Clio’s own Lawyer in Residence, Joshua Lenon.   I learned a lot of great information from Judge Stephen Louis Dillard, the 73rd judge of the Court of Appeals of Georgia, and David Lat, a former Federal Court clerk and founder of the widely known blog Above the Law.  In case you were not able to attend, I thought it would be instrumental to share their firsthand experiences.

In the beginning of the webinar, Joshua Lenon addressed a couple of matters that I’m sure many of you have once pondered.  Judges can use different elements of social media, BUT they must be consistent with their model code and not convey an impression that they can be influenced.  Judges can also have personal opinions!  However, it cannot appear as though they are acting on their opinions.  They must remain impartial.

My Name is…

It was very interesting to listen to Judge Dillard explain the worst breaches of etiquette that he has observed in his court.  He says he cannot count how many times he has witnessed a lawyer mispronounce a judge’s last name.  If there are 5 panels of judges, make sure you know who is who!  Avoid the embarrassment by studying their pictures before you go into court.   The worst breach of etiquette that Judge Dillard has seen numerous times is making a jury argument to an appellate court.  Judge Dillard strongly advises against this, as this is suggesting a sway on motions.  Judges also find it offensive if you do not answer their question.  This will make the judge very angry, as well as the rest of the panel.  If you do not know the answer, simply say that! Also, many of you may wonder how you are supposed to address Judges in different atmospheres.  In court you should always address them as “Judge,” “Your Honor,” or “Judge So-and-so.”  Judge Dillard says he does not expect people to call him Judge while at a dinner or casual setting.

Don’t Take It Personal

To deescalate unprofessional behavior in court, Judge Dillard suggests to remember that the case is not about you.  This isn’t to say you can’t be passionate.  If the opposing counsel is being obscene, remain professional and keep eye contact with the judge.  Do not be baited by it!  Also, every time you make an argument before the court, your reputation is on the line!  Just as lawyers will discuss other lawyers, Judges will also talk with each other about lawyers.

Local Rules Apply!

I think one of the most important things I learned from Judge Dillard and David Lat is to always look up local court rules if you are appearing before a new court.  You are responsible for knowing their rules, as this can be vital to important deadlines, submission of documents and the interest of your client.  You will not be prepared when you enter the courtroom otherwise.   You can find local court rules on the Internet!  So really, there is no excuse.  It does not hurt to double- or triple-check!  David Lat offers a great tip for younger lawyers:  Hire local counsel to inquire about the judge and courtroom.  If you have a break during the day, go around the courthouse and absorb knowledge!  Make time to sit in with hearings and get to know the courthouse and staff.

This webinar provided great insight of how to address judges, appearing before a new court, and the most common breaches of courtroom etiquette.   I hope this information was useful and helps you to acknowledge some of the important dos and don’ts in court.

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