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Litigation News: How well do you know your judge?

The following article was originally published in Litigation News (Vol. 18, Issue 2, Spring 2013) by the Ohio State Bar Association Litigation Section.

Do you know in front of whom you are practicing?

JudgeWe are lucky to have the opportunity to practice in front of many great judges across Ohio. For both newer and seasoned attorneys, it can sometimes be overwhelming and difficult to practice in front of so many different judges. You need to be aware of who you are practicing in front of to be a more valuable advocate for your clients.

Do your homework
For starters, just about every courthouse in the state has a website containing judge profiles. This is a great way to do some quick homework before heading in front of a judge for the first time. You can also find other helpful information such as basic courtroom procedures and contact information. Another great way to do your homework is to ask more seasoned attorneys for pointers based on their familiarity with practicing before specific judges. The best teacher is experience, and attorneys who have been around longer than you have certainly made mistakes you can learn from.

Call ahead
If you have done your homework and still have a specific question or a unique situation you need guidance on, call the judge’s staff, but do not do it 10 minutes before your hearing. More often than not, your question or concern will be met with a friendly answer or helpful suggestion if you know when to do the asking. Try to avoid the morning, as most court staff members are busy helping with the morning dockets.

Take notes
It is one thing to be a rookie practicing before a different judge or in a different county; it is another thing to ask the same questions every time you practice before that judge or in that county. Once you learn the procedures and preferences of a particular courtroom—write them down! You will likely have to recall that information again, and repeatedly asking the same questions is never good. Court staff will notice. Showing up prepared and remembering what you were told will score you major points.

Be nice
Your demeanor will make or break you. Even attorneys that completely ignore the three tips above will still get by if they are courteous to everyone (yes that means opposing counsel). Oddly enough, mastering the first three tips is relatively meaningless if you do not know how to play nice. Even if a judge is not watching you directly, comments made by his or her staff, your attitude in filed pleadings, and even emails with opposing counsel are all noticed.

Do it
If you tell the court you are going to do something, do it!

Leave a (good) lasting impression
You have heard this a thousand times, but it might be the most relevant here. Leaving good impressions on your colleagues is important, but not nearly as important as leaving a good impression on the judge and his or her staff. Be on time, be polite, and recognize the fact that your case is only one of many.

By Stephanie R. Hanna, staff attorney to The Hon. Kim J. Brown, Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, General Division.

Litigation News is produced by the OSBA Litigation Section. The OSBA publishes 10 committee and section newsletters. For more information, contact OSBA Publications Editor John Hocter by phone at (800) 282-6556 or (614) 487-4402, or by email at jhocter@ohiobar.org.

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