- Know the facts of your case, know the law, understand and know the strengths and weaknesses of your argument.
- Anticipate the arguments from the opposition.
- When appearing in Court, bring your file, all pleadings (for all parties involved), and be ready to provide the Court with a copy.
- Advise your client – in advance – that he or she must tell you the truth about the issues or the underlying facts lest you be blindsided at counsel table.
Know the Rules of Evidence
- Have a grasp on admissibility, relevance, laying foundation, and witness testimony. A primer on Evidence (reprinted with permission).
Know Your Objections
- Understand which objections are available to you, anticipate objections from the opposition and know the argument against those objections, and understand when to not object even though an objection is available.
- This handy chart, thanks to the Family Law Section, outlines the major objections generally available.
Manage Client Expectations
- Assess the risks, weaknesses, and options of the case with the client and keep them apprised of the health of their position with the court.
- Do not make meritless arguments to the court on the demand or expectation of your client, you must tell him or her when they’re argument or position is weak and will not prevail. If he or she insists that you take a weak position, then signal the Court in your argument that you know the position is without merit.
- Pay attention to the Rules of Professional Conduct
- If you have lost the argument or your case, maintain your composure and be polite.
- Treat your opposing counsel with respect, be kind to the Court staff, be respectful to the Court.
Mind Your Reputation
- Opposing counsel are your colleagues. They will often become referral sources and will speak of you in the courthouse hallways. Treat them with kindness and respect. We all have opposing views and positions, but that does not mean that we act aggressively, rudely, or be uncivilized.
- Be cautious in your conduct with a case: Do not engage in nefarious or deleterious tactics simply because you think they will help you win. Your reputation with the Court matters more than a single win on a single case; and if the Court learns that you acted with less than full candor, they will remember that the next time you appear before them and will be hesitant to trust that you are telling them the truth.
- Your reputation is all you have. It is yours to build and yours to ruin.
Find a Mentor and Ask for Help
- Court staff have their finger on the pulse of who’s a good attorney, and who isn’t. One way to find a mentor is to ask the Court staff for a recommendation – after all, it is better to follow the example of a knowledgeable, reputable attorney than one who is not.
- Read through legal publications to find attorneys who are spotlighted for their excellence, as well as reprimanded for their poor conduct – this is a good way to know who to seek out and who to avoid.
- When you find a mentor, ask him or her if he or she is willing to let you shadow them for a day, whether they are available for questions or to consult with you, and if they are willing to let you practice under them.
- If you’re in Business Law, check out the CYLA Mentorship program.
- Finally, we all get stressed out and sometimes we need extra support managing our new careers as attorneys. Reach out to the Lawyer Assistance Program when you need an extra hand.