June 06, 2011 Articles

The Art of Lawyering: A Delicate Balance

Judges and lawyers alike must balance their lives in and out of the courtroom.

By Hon. Pamila J. Brown

Being a state trial court judge is exceedingly challenging but very rewarding. Each day I am called upon to decide difficult cases, maintain the dignity and decorum of the courtroom, and manage a very busy docket efficiently, all the while balancing the rights of all the litigants, victims, and witnesses. This delicate balancing act takes place in the courtroom and in the personal lives of judges and lawyers as well.

I offer the following suggestions for use inside and outside the courtroom. They are designed to help you present your case efficiently, effectively, and successfully, and at the same time, enjoy the work that you’re doing.

<p>•Be prepared. That includes being on time, having cases that will be cited available for the court and opposing counsel, and speaking to opposing counsel before the day of trial.</p>
<p>•Be succinct. Typically, your case is not the only one on the docket. Prepare in advance so that you can make your best case efficiently.</p>
<p>•Be respectful to the judge, opposing counsel, witnesses, and your client. Refrain from arguing with the court after a ruling, and remember that the record is your friend.</p>
<p>•Know your case and the elements of proof that you need or defenses that you can assert.</p>
<p>•Know the rules of evidence and the exceptions. Develop a short objection sheet to use at trial.</p>
<p>•Use your opening statement to tell a story and paint a picture for the judge. Often, counsel will waive the opening statement, thereby missing a valuable opportunity to articulate the litigant&rsquo;s position to the court.</p>
<p>•Don&rsquo;t reiterate the direct examination in your cross-examination. Limit your questions to matters that are good for your client and bad for your opponent. Arrange your questions in logical order to tell an interesting story. If you seek to impeach, make sure to lay the foundation. Most importantly, know when to stop. Give thought to what you really need and what gives you the building blocks for your closing argument. Discipline yourself at trial not to be greedy after you have met your objective. Sit down.</p>
<p>•Always be candid with the court. Make sure you are accurate about your client&rsquo;s record or the contents of the cases you cite. Concede if there is case authority that does not support your position.</p>
<p>•Realize that as a lawyer, you are constantly learning, and some of the most valuable lessons you will learn are from mistakes you make. Remember nobody is perfect. Don&rsquo;t forget that the judge is constantly learning as well; each case is new, and the law is constantly evolving. Use opportunities that present themselves by way of motion or argument to politely educate the court.</p>
<p>•Develop a network of lawyers and judges that you can call on for assistance or for mentorship.</p>
<p>•The practice of law should be a rewarding and fulfilling experience for you. Take time to regularly reflect on the oath you took as a new admittee, and remember that our profession is a noble and learned one that serves the public interest.</p>
<p>•Remember to balance your professional and personal life so that each has sufficient time. While it may take planning and great effort to do so, it will make a huge difference in your life. It is easy to get wrapped up in pressures of the day, but your professional and personal lives do not have to be mutually exclusive. You can do volunteer work, such as working with the PTA at your child&rsquo;s school or lending assistance and leadership to a scout troop, soccer association, YWCA, Soroptimist Club, or your church, synagogue, or mosque. Often there is a void, and no one wants to volunteer or run for positions. Take the opportunity to step forward. With your legal training, you are able to keep a meeting moving, spot issues, and help resolve problems with reason. Candidly, there is a dual benefit in that you can focus on groups that involve your children or your personal interests while at the same time receiving the benefit of networking, client building, and, of course, goodwill. I have found that it is important to me as a judge, as it was for me as a lawyer, to have balance in my life, as much of the work I do as a judge is of a solitary nature. I supplement my work on the bench by actively working with bar associations, volunteering at schools, teaching at law schools, and assisting with pro bono clinics. For members of the legal profession, public advocacy and public service are good for the community and good for the soul.</p>