October 2018Volume 29Number 1PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)

Five courtroom tips for new lawyers

Welcome to the legal profession. You’ve been sworn-in, and now it’s time to embark on your new career. Here are five tips that will help you navigate the courtroom:

1. Know your judge

When a case is filed, it’s usually assigned to a judge. In Cook County, law division cases are initially assigned to a motion judge. Some judges issue standing orders. Standing orders contain information relating to courtroom procedures for a specific judge. You can search the court’s website for judges’ standing orders.

I started my career as prosecutor, and I was assigned to various judges over extended periods of time. Appearing before the same judge daily allowed me to learn more about how judges run their courtrooms differently.

In your spare time, consider going into a courtroom and observing a hearing, trial, or status call. Recently, Judge Lyons (Cook County Circuit Court Judge-Law Division) hosted a lunch and learn program for young lawyers. Judge Lyons offered tips on practicing in his courtroom. Check the ISBA’s website for upcoming events/CLEs in which judges are involved. Get to know your judge before appearing before him/her.

2. Be kind to the clerk

Tip number two may seem obvious, but being rude to a court clerk is unacceptable. If a court clerk is not happy with your conduct, he/she can make it difficult to practice in that particular courtroom. For example, your cases can always be called up last, which can mean spending extra time away from the office. As a professional, it’s important to treat others with respect. It’s easy to be kind to the court clerk.

3. Be prepared

You should review your file(s) prior to appearing at a hearing, trial, etc. It can be a waste of the court’s time if an attorney appears before a judge, and is unable to answer basic questions regarding a case.

If you are covering a case for another attorney, find out the status of the case, and be prepared to let the court know what’s happening with the case. I’ve assisted other lawyers by covering court calls, and I try to get as much information as possible about the case that is being covered.

Additionally, a failure to prepare can have a negative impact on your reputation. Make sure you are prepared at all times.

4. Find a mentor

A legal mentor can help you navigate your new career. If you find a mentor in your practice area, this person may have experienced many of the issues you may be juggling. A mentor can give you courtroom tips, and discuss trial techniques with you. It can be helpful to bounce ideas off of a more experienced lawyer.

The ISBA offers a Lawyer-to-Lawyer Mentoring program. You can find more information about the program at https://www.isba.org/mentoring.

5. Conduct legal research

After three years of law school, you’ve passed the bar examination, and you’re ready to jump right into practicing law. There are publications available regarding trial techniques that can be helpful prior to trial. I’ve found Trial Techniques by Thomas Mauet to be helpful prior to trial.

Some of the Illinois Supreme Court and Illinois Appellate Court opinions are online for your review. As a solo practitioner, I found the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (IICLE) publications to be very informative. Be sure to conduct legal research prior to a hearing or trial. ISBA members can access FastCase free of charge. Westlaw Next is also a great resource. Conducting legal research allows you to stay up-to-date on legal trends.

Jameika Mangum is a solo practitioner and owner of The Mangum Law Firm, LLC. Mangum is a former prosecutor who has prosecuted cases in Illinois and New Mexico. Mangum practices personal injury and criminal law. In her spare time, Mangum enjoys traveling and spending time with her family.

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