This is part 3 of a 3 part blog aimed to assist you manage such situations effectively, and to ultimately impress the Judge, your client, and you opponent.
If you have not received part 1 and 2 of this blog please contact me and I will make sure that you get them.
1. CHECK YOUR IMAGE
You have now fully prepared your case. You had a pre-hearing conference with your client and explained what is likely to happen in court. You told your client how to dress. What about you? Always check your image in the mirror before you head off to court. A poor image will diminish a strong message. Is your suit clean? Is your tie straight? Is your dress or skirt an appropriate length? Is your hair well arranged? A sloppy or immodest look will affect your reputation. On the other hand, if your image is consistently neat and modest, you will gain respect from your clients and your colleagues.
2. TAKE ALL YOU NEED
You are about to leave for court. You have packed your briefcase. You check that you have copies of your application, affidavits or statements, chronology, draft orders, written submissions, and the authorities you intend to rely on. You grab a copy of the legislation and the rules, or you check that they are on your Tablet. Consider taking your client’s file. You may need to refer to the correspondence in it, even though it may not seem relevant to you at the time. Check which court you are in and who your Judge is. Look at the number of matters listed in your court to get an idea of how long it may be before your matter is heard.
3. MEET YOUR OPPONENT
Arrive in court early so that you can meet your opponent. Show courtesy and respect to your opponent even if this is not reciprocated. There is no benefit in adopting tactics that aim to intimidate. A well prepared practitioner will not be intimidated in this manner anyway. Be open to discussions to narrow down the issues in dispute. Assist your client to negotiate an agreement on at least some of the issues, leaving only those unresolved for the Judge to determine. If discussions are productive and still ongoing when your matter is called, ask the Judge to stand your matter down so that you can continue to negotiate.
4. PERSUADE THE JUDGE
Your matter is now called. You enter the courtroom, show your client to their seat, and take your seat at the bar table. Announce your appearance when prompted to do so. After your opponent announces theirs, briefly outline the issues in dispute and tell the Judge what your client is seeking. Offer to hand the Judge your draft orders and written submissions.
The Judge may not have read any of the material and may ask questions. Deal with the issues the Judge wants to deal with and answer the questions. Avoid telling the Judge that you will “come back to that point later”. Deal with the Judge’s questions as they arise. Take the Judge to your evidence by referring to the paragraphs in your affidavits or statements.
When your opponent is speaking, do not interrupt unless to have to raise an important objection. You will have the opportunity to make further submissions in reply, so take notes when your opponent is addressing the court.
When you speak, be confident but polite. Persuade but do not argue. Be conscious of your body language and any distracting ticks. At all times, be respectful to the Judge, the associate, your opponent, your client, and the other party. If the decision is against your client, do not react. It is unprofessional and immature. Instead, turn your attention to explaining the adverse decision to your client and discussing further options.
SO, HOW DO YOU “IMPRESS”?
We have all heard this: “preparation, preparation, preparation”. Do not underestimate this. Preparation is crucial to being an effective advocate. Prioritising, delegating, managing your time, and looking after your client are also important. However, your conduct in court is, in my view, the most important. All eyes are on you. Remember, it takes many months, or even years, to develop a good reputation. It takes only a moment to destroy it. Be attentive to your client, and you will impress your client. Be courteous to your opponent, and you will impress your opponent. Be thoroughly prepared and present your argument confidently but respectfully, and you will impress the Judge, your client, and your opponent.