What I learned behind the bench:
Being a judge is hard. Really hard. You want to do the best that you can, but in most cases, 50% of the people still end up mad at you. Sometimes you want to come to a certain decision, but you simply can’t. Sometimes you want to hang out with people, but you can’t, because you might create the perception of being unfair. It’s way too political. People can be really two-faced.
Being a judicial clerk is awesome. An indepth, behind the scenes look at how decisions are made can only help you be a better lawyer. You see exactly what works and what doesn’t work. You learn to write better briefs and summary judgments as a result of being the poor person on the other side who reads them. I enjoyed my clerkship immensley and would highly recommend it.
Here’s what I know that can help you:
1) If you are new to a court, introduce yourself to the court assistants, court reporter, bailiffs, and even the judge, if he or she has time before hearings start.
2) If you have exhibits at a hearing or trial, make sure you have plenty of them. Even one for the law clerk. It’s hard to take notes about an exhibit if you can’t see it.
3) If your client is a lawyer, don’t start a jury trial by making jokes about how terrible lawyers are. It will not go well for you.
4) I’ve seen a lot of people get a few rulings they didn’t like and decide to non-suit in hopes of getting a different judge. In the cases that I saw, this wasn’t necessary. The case could still have been won (easily). Obviously, this is a case by case thing, but take a step back before you decide to non-suit. It may not be as bad as you think.
5) Visuals. Make your case interesting to the jury, however you can. Pictures, live demonstrations, easy-to-understand experts: these things have a big impact.
6) Brevity. Judges and juries like succinct points. Being long-winded only makes people tune out.
7) Be engaging. Act like you really care about the issues in your case (ideally, you should actually care). Why should a judge or jury care about your case if you seem bored by it?
8) Don’t file motions just because they are on the checklist. If you know it’s useless, save your energy for the things that are useful.
9) Never cite overturned cases. Do not twist a case into something unrecognizable. Judges and their clerks keep mental lists of people they can’t trust. The opposite is also true: consistently reliable attorneys earn brownie points because the reader knows they can be trusted.
10) Volunteer to send a Word version of your brief if the judge needs to write an opinion. Copying and pasting from your brief is much easier than re-writing the whole thing. Ask for exactly what you want in your prayer. Be specific. If you want an extension for three weeks, say three weeks.
I hope this helps. If you have a question, feel free to ask and I will try to answer.