December 11, 2020 Practice Points

“P” is for Pleadings Are Public Record: Over-the-Top Pleadings

Coaching your clients to maintain a civilized tone can reduce conflict and enhance their image before the court.

By Sahmra A. Stevenson

It can be tempting to turn on the dramatics when drafting a pleading, especially with a set-of facts that get you fired up or maybe where you feel a need to embolden a less assertive client. I rarely meet a client who isn’t on board with being aggressive in pleadings. But coaching clients to maintain a civilized tone in a family law case can reduce conflict between the parties and enhance your clients’ image before the court. Focus on the facts and thoroughly explain the facts to the court without too many negative opinions, assessments, and judgments.

I like to remind clients that their pleadings are a matter of public record and that potentially anyone can get their hands on them I the future. I ask them if they really want their business “out in the streets” and impress upon them that litigation is a process with a time and place for everything including detailed storytelling, which is best done in the courtroom in front of the trier of fact.

In submitting statements to court, a civil attorney should ask their client to simply tell the court what the person did without all of the pejorative terms. For example, accusing someone of having “violent tendencies” when the person has never engaged in violent behavior is inflammatory. Courts also often find extreme statements—calling someone a “liar” when there is no clear proof of that or stating opinions such as “he doesn’t really care about our children” or “she is a psychopath”—unpersuasive.

Sahmra A. Stevenson is the founder of S.A. Stevenson Law Offices, with offices in Greenbelt and Columbia, Maryland.


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