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California Young Lawyers Association

Tips and Tools from the Bench

In this edition, Judge Rebecca Riley of the Ventura County Superior Court provides her tips to new lawyers:

What is one piece of advice that you would like to give to young lawyers?

I encourage all new attorneys to get as much courtroom experience as they can. Often young attorneys are nervous and intimidated making court appearances. The only way to decide what kind of law to practice is to try it. Young lawyers often learn whether they love or hate a particular field of law, or litigation versus transaction, after only a few court appearances.  This is crucial in shaping a young lawyer’s career.

Do you have any writing tips for young lawyers?

I advise new attorneys to work on polishing their writing skills. I discourage thick, wordy pleadings when the same argument could be written succinctly and in one page. Try to get the most important points out in the first few pages. Also, pleadings should be organized so it is easy for the Judge to follow along.  This includes having the arguments flow together, having the topics set out clearly with headings, and having all arguments following the appropriate heading.

What is a common mistake you see made by young lawyers?

A common mistake I see is that attorneys forget to Shepardize a case and either cite to an unpublished case or a case that is not on point. Be sure to Shepardize every case that you cite in your memos and briefs to make sure the case actually holds for what you think it does. It is important not to just pull certain quotes out without reading the entire case and holding.

What advice do you have for new attorneys about being a better oral advocate?

Be courteous and polite to opposing counsel and witnesses, particularly in front of a jury.  After a jury trial, I give the jury a comment sheet and often times I get back a poor comment on an attorney who rolled his eyes, made hand gestures or was being rude.

I also think lawyers should not forget their audience whether it is a judge or a jury. Think about what your audience needs to hear to make the right decision. Make it easy for the audience to follow your arguments.  Learn to argue in a concise and organized manner so that your audience can easily follow you.

Do you have any tips for a new attorney that may think of becoming a Judge?

Always be truthful. If you ever get caught in a misrepresentation, your credibility will go down fast.  Be sure to always make a good impression. It is easy to make a bad impression but it is very hard to correct. When you start the process of becoming a judge, your colleagues and opposing counsel will remember everything. You need to be a fair and honest person and have good work ethics. Find a judge that you respect and emulate him or her.  

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