The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Government Lawyers
The first appearance
When appearing before a federal judge for the first time on a case, you of course want to make a good impression not only for yourself, but for your client and your case as well. To accomplish this, I suggest you consider following these simple steps:
1. Check the Court’s Web site
Every federal court in Illinois has its own Web site, and those sites are:
• <http://www.ilnd.uscourts.gov> for Northern District of Illinois
• <http://www.ilnd.uscourts.gov> for Northern District Bankruptcy Court
• <http://www.ilcd.uscourts.gov> for Central District of Illinois
• <http://www.ilcb.uscourts.gov> for Central District Bankruptcy Court
• <http://www.ilsd.uscourts.gov> for Southern District of Illinois
• <http://www.ilsb.uscourts.gov> for Southern District Bankruptcy Court
Each Web site contains valuable information about each of the courts, including the court’s local rules, courthouse locations and general procedures, as well as information about each individual judge’s specific procedures, recent decisions, and schedules.
If you check the court’s Web site just before your first appearance, you will have the most up-to-date information on such practical things as knowing the exact location of the courtroom where the judge on your case will be sitting the day of your first appearance.
2. Go early
Go to the court prior to your first appearance, either go in early on the day your case is called or come in on some earlier day. Doing this provides you two benefits: (1) you can observe the way the judge deals with other cases on the judge’s call; and (2) you can introduce yourself to the judge’s staff, such as the judge’s clerk and court reporter. Although you should not talk to them about the merits of your case, they are good people for you to know because at some point you will probably have to talk to the judge’s clerk about scheduling and the judge’s court reporter about transcripts. Plus, these people work with the judge on a daily basis and you can learn a lot from them. They are a good source of information about the judge. They know the judge’s procedures, and what the judge expects from counsel in the courtroom. Judges often encourage their respective court reporters and clerks to let counsel know their specific courtroom procedures so counsel are better prepared. That makes the judge’s life easier.
Also, an additional reason to go to the courthouse early on the day your case will be called is in this post-9/11 era, the time to get through U.S. courthouse security is unpredictable.
3. Bring your calendar
At the first appearance, most federal judges, be they district judges, bankruptcy judges, or magistrate judges, will want to set further dates in the case. Before judges set these dates, they usually want to learn from counsel what dates counsel are available to appear in court. If you do not have your calendar with you at the first appearance to let the judge know what dates you are, or more importantly, are not available to come to court, you will not be able to assist the judge on this point, and both your professional, as well as your personal schedule may be disrupted when a court appearance is set by the judge on a date which conflicts with something you have already scheduled. Moreover, the judge may be hesitant to later change a date the judge set in open court on the court calendar with all counsels’ concurrence if opposing counsel objects to the change. So, bring your professional and personal calendar with you when you come to court for the first appearance for your convenience as well as the judge’s.
4. Be ready to discuss your case
When your case is called in court for the first appearance, the most that the judge will probably know about your case is what has been previously filed in the public record. Consequently, many judges want to hear from the lawyers to obtain a further understanding about the case. Judges may want to know what the lawyers think the key issues are, what the possibility for settlement is, what time is necessary to complete discovery, and what would be a reasonable trial date. Before the first appearance, you should think about these points, talk to your co-counsel, and talk with opposing counsel. If you do, you will be able to succinctly and accurately state your position and answer all the judge’s questions.
If you do these things, your first appearance in federal court should go smoothly and you will make the good impression you desire to make for the benefit of yourself, your client and your case.
* This article was originally published in the ISBA’s Federal Civil Practice newsletter, September 2003, Vol. 2, No. 1, and is reprinted with permission.