From time to time we expound upon our wisdom, gained from years in the crucible. We are gratified, for example, that some notable trial judges have seized upon our rules for Judges and adopted our rule that when a lawyer says she is going on vacation the judge does her no favors by setting the trial for the week she gets back.
And now, just to show that we are even handed (certain Judges are spitting up their coffee at this moment) we present some common sense rules for lawyers when appearing in Court, via Zoom or in person.
There really is only two rules that matter at all. It is the first rule (#1) , the last rule (#10), and together they encompass every other rule:
RUMPOLE'S RULE #1: DO NOT BE LATE FOR COURT. A famous football coach had a rule that being early for an 8 am meeting was being in the room at 7:30; being on time was being in the room at 7:45 and being late was being in the room any time after 7:50 and no one should dare walk through the door at 8. The same goes for lawyers. You want to let a judge know you are professional and care about the client and the case? Show up early. Every hearing, every time. Everything else flows from that.
RULE#2: Even in times of Zoom, men wear a jacket and tie and women wear whatever it is that they wear that is a respectful business suit. You are showing respect for the position and the dignity of the court. On Zoom you should never wear shorts and a jacket and tie. Wear a full suit, including shinned shoes. Personal preparation is a pre-condition to client preparation.
RULE 3: Be prepared. Have the documents already out. Have your argument written down, no matter how simple. Don't read from it, but the simple five minutes preparation of writing "We are asking for a continuance because the state was late with discovery and we need more time" is a away of preparing. When was discovery served the judge may ask? Hold up the document you have already located with a time stamp. Fumbling through a file makes you look unprepared and no judge should tolerate that.
RULE4: Always stand when addressing the Court, even when on zoom. It shows respect for the position of the Judge. Period. No discussion.
RULE5: Always be respectful to opposing counsel. If they were late in discovery but sent it after you asked, make sure you tell the judge that. If you have a history with the lawyer, tell the judge that as well. "Discovery was late but I know counsel for the state and she is always diligent about her responsibilities ..."
RULE6: Always address Court personnel and be respectful and tell the Judge how the clerk or court reporter helped you find something just before court started. Always thank corrections officers for helping with your client.
RULE7: Spend time with your client before and after every hearing. Let them know what to expect and afterwards what occurred. Follow that up with an email. Most lawyers get in trouble with the Bar for not keeping the client informed. Email ends that problem pure and simple.
RULE8: Never never never never surrender. As Mr. Markus says, "You cannot win a plea."
RULE9: See rules 1, 8 & 10. They are that important.
RULE10: Never be anything other than 100% candid with the Court. It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and one moment to lose it. Do prevaricate, equivocate, or any other "ocate". Just tell the truth and if you cannot do so- tell the Court you cannot answer the question. One lie...one exaggeration, one miscommunication is all it takes to lose a judge, lose a case, and lose your reputation.
Corollary: Judge's often have a short amount of time to grasp what are many times complicated sets of facts. A difficult job for the brightest amongst us (add the gratuitous shot at the bench here)... So it stands to reason that some Judges who can't get all the facts down may well feel themselves drawn to the advocate that appears more levelheaded and more reasonable. No Judge gets intimidated by a lawyer who yells and engages in histrionics. In fact such actions are more likely to get them to stop listening to you.
If you want to be a better lawyer and lay the foundations for success, start with our rules.