One of the best things about being a law clerk is getting to be in court every day. Clerks get to learn what to do when they are standing on the other side of the bar. Almost more importantly, trial court clerks get to see first hand what not to do while representing someone. During my two years as a trial court clerk I’ve seen lawyers do some crazy things, but there are three that stand out due to their regularity.
Not Being Prepared
I almost didn’t include this in the list. But when I took an informal survey of a half dozen court reporters and court staff, this was the first thing they all said. Yikes. I have no substantive advice to give on this point. Unfortunately, it’s still worth mentioning. It’s worth mentioning that attorneys have a duty to their clients to be prepared. It’s worth mentioning that you can’t zealously represent someone if you don’t know what the case is about. And it’s worth mentioning that when attorneys show up unprepared it hurts their own reputation as much as it hurts their client.
Not Knowing the Local Rules
There are 67 counties in Pennsylvania. Each has its own local rules, motions procedures, and general policies.In addition, each county has numerous judges, who also each have their own way of doing things. The same is true of almost any state in the country. With so many small variations and local policies, it’s impossible to know how things are done in a place you’ve never been. Moreover, judges in one place don’t want to hear about how things are done elsewhere.
Luckily, there are two incredibly easy steps you can take to fix this problem. First, use the internet. It’s the twenty first century. Most local rules are online and accessible for free. But knowing the local rules only gets you halfway there. You also have to know about the judge you will be in front of. So either call the judge’s chambers and ask the staff, or contact the local bar association to get the name of a local attorney you can ask.
Looking Like You Just Woke Up
We all have bad hair days. That’s forgivable. But showing up in court with your tie barely on, your top button unbuttoned, or your shirt wrinkled beyond recognition, is not. I see this at least once a week. It’s especially bad when an attorney shows up disheveled and late. If you’re running late anyway, be another two minutes late and come in looking presentable.