Here are the top ten most commonly cited complaints from judges about attorneys in the courtroom:

1. Tardiness

Walking into a courtroom after a session has begun is disruptive. Even more irritating, however, is the tardy attorney for whom the on-time attorneys and the court are waiting. While most judges understand that sometimes things can happen that are out of a lawyer’s control, if you are going to be late, call the judge’s chambers and let them know.

2. Lack of Brevity

It often takes lawyers too long to get to the bottom line of what their client is asking the court to do. The first page of a motion should contain a succinct summary of what the party is requesting. If a party clearly presents what decision he or she wants, that decision is more likely to be granted. “An unfocused argument is frequently a losing argument. How can a reader ferret out important points of your case if your writing wanders in circles?”

3. Incivility

It does not impress the judge or jury when attorneys are disrespectful to court staff. Lawyers bickering with or interrupting each other in court can often damage a lawyer’s reputation and even hinder one’s case. Lawyers should always strive to be the voice of reason when dealing with opposing counsel or court staff, as it will leave a good impression on the court.

4. Lack of Communication with Opposing Counsel

With the increased use of email, it seems that opposing counsel rarely talks with one another outside of the courtroom. Judges have observed that the lack of dialogue during a case fosters animosity and disrespect when lawyers finally interact for the first time in a formal setting, which reflects poorly on everyone involved.

5. Casualness

Whether it be in an email or within the courtroom setting, being too informal and lacking professionalism is a big mistake. Attorneys should address each other by their last name rather than a more casual appellation. In court and on the record, counsel should refer to opposing counsel as Mr. Smith or Ms. Jones, rather than Joe of Susie. Never address a witness whom you are examining by their first name unless the witness is 16 years old or younger.

6. Insufficient Preparation

Judges reported that many lawyers don’t seem to have thought ahead about how to get evidence admitted at trial. Lawyers should evaluate in advance of the trial how to submit exhibits and other evidence. Also, judges want lawyers to know their cases and the rules. Sometimes lawyers seem ill-prepared for motion questions – they are not as well versed on their own materials as would be expected. Even if a lawyer did not draft a motion him- or herself, the lawyer should still learn the materials and know the facts better than the judge.

7. Accuracy

Less is more. Judges have noticed that lawyers tend to provide more evidence than necessary to support their notions. Also, lawyers sometimes cite broadly to an exhibit or declaration, requiring the judge to hunt for the relevant support (which many judges won’t do). Make evidentiary submissions meaningful, and make the relevant information easy to find by citing specific pages, paragraphs, or lines of the exhibits.

8. Knowing the Audience

What a particular judge prefers by way of oral argument may not be the same for every judge. Investigate the background of a judge, and approach the argument differently if you appear before a new judge with a background in criminal law as opposed to a more seasoned judge who practiced civil litigation.

9. Courtesy Copies

Even with eCourt, parties should still provide a hard copy to the judge at the same time as the filing. Too often lawyers do not provide a hard copy at all or do not send it to chambers (if it is sent to the file room, the document likely will not make it to the judge). In those cases, the day of the hearing comes and the judge realizes he or she does not have all the materials. Some judges ask their judicial assistants to confirm that the judge has all materials ahead of time, but not all do that, and they shouldn’t have to do so.

10. Lack of Meaningful Conferral

Too often, judges note that lawyers do not have a substantive conferral before bringing discovery disputes to court. The lawyers may say they had a phone call but don’t actually go item by item through the disputed discovery.

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By Marsha Naegeli