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California Young Lawyers Association

Tips From the Bench: Interview of Commissioner Michele Castillo with Al Martinez

I sat down with newly appointed Commissioner Michele Castillo to get her “tips from the bench.” Commissioner Castillo manages and presides over a high-volume family law courtroom, hearing matters involving child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, domestic violence, civil harassment, workplace violence restraining orders, and emergency protective orders.

Q. WHAT IS THE COMMON MISTAKE YOU SEE NEW LAWYERS MAKE, AND WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE TO PREVENT IT?

A. Very common I see attorneys not being procedurally prepared.  Some appear confused, or unaware of why they are even there. All attorneys should speak to your client about the case, read the file, review local court rules, and watch a courtroom to get a feel for how it operates. You may also speak with colleagues, mentors (which you should have) about how to handle a specific hearing or trial.  Bottom line, procedurally educate yourself.

Q. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR NEW LAWYERS INTERESTED IN IMPROVING THEIR ADVOCACY SKILLS?

A. Practice, practice, practice!  I encourage all attorneys to practice and fine tune their public speaking skills. One of the best ways is to joint your local Toastmastersgroup. Toastmasters is a public speaking skills group that meets at various times throughout the day. You can also volunteer for the county public defender office, district attorney office, or law firm to get some “courtroom” time.

Q. NEW ATTORNEYS MAY FEEL NERVOUS THEIR FIRST COURT APPEARANCES OR TRIALS, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO EASE THEIR NERVES?

A. It is absolutely normal to feel nervous when making court appearances or doing trials. This is true no matter how many years you have been practicing. If it is overtly noticeable, use it to your advantage to try to make yourself endearing to the jury (assuming there is a jury trial). If not, remember that all bench officers are human too.

Q. DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR A NEW LAWYER WHO IS INTERESTED IN BECOMING A JUDICIAL OFFICER?

A. The best advice I was given when I started my legal career, and it would apply whether or not someone aspired to become a judicial officer or not, is “always remember that two things will always follow you, your reputation and integrity(or lack thereof).”

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