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Family Law
The newsletter of ISBA’s Section on Family Law

March 2013, vol. 56, no. 9

Things judges love and things they don’t about lawyers

About two months ago, I made a mistake. I volunteered to write an article for the Family Law Section Council Newsletter. That was not the mistake! Writing for the Newsletter is a good thing! It seemed like it would be easy and fun. Then it came time to actually write the article. Our esteemed editor, Matt Kirsh, sent me a reminder. I wrote him back that I was happy to write a case note. That was the mistake! Matt sent me a return e-mail saying: “No; since I was a Judge I had to write something for lawyers about what Judges like or don’t like”. It is easier and more fun to write a case note!

I work in the Domestic Relations Division in DuPage County with wonderful Judges. I asked for and received their help in writing this article. It still wasn’t easy or fun; but, it would have been impossible without them!

I promised my fellow Judges that I would not quote any of them; but would thank them in this article for their help. So, I went to thank: Judges Cerne, Coco, Davenport, Demling, Dudgeon, Equi, Marchese, McJoynt, McKillip and Miller for their help and assistance. Anything good in this article is due to them. Blame me for the bad!

All of us Judges like and respect Family Law Attorneys. For the most part, all of you are courteous, professional and well prepared. We all recognize that you have a very difficult job dealing with clients who are often going through the worst time of their life. Family Law is an intellectually complex area of the law made more difficult by the incredible emotions that your clients experience with each step of their case. We love how you care about your clients. You often take difficult cases for little or no money and do a great job for your clients.

We all love lawyers who are well prepared each time they appear before us. We appreciate and respect those that focus on what matters and spend little or no time on those things that are not really relevant to the issues before us. We recognize that some of your clients simply do not understand the concept set out in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act that certain things are to be decided “without regard to marital misconduct”. We look to you to be the filter for their anger and to focus only on what is relevant.

We love you when we receive courtesy copies of your pleadings and any pre-trial memorandum at least 24 hours in advance. (Our local court rules actually require earlier service of Courtesy copies; but, that will be in my next article!) We actually read what you file! Several Judges commented that they like “informative” pleadings that actually tell us what is going on in your case. We also like when you cite cases in your pleadings so that we can read them ahead of time. Please make sure that you actually have read the cases you cite and that they actually say what you cite them for in your pleading. Not much is more embarrassing than to have a case not say what you said it does.

All the Judges love lawyers who actually settle cases when it is possible to do so. All of us want you to at least talk to the other side to see what is in dispute before you have a pre-trial conference with us. If you can settle some or all of the issues without us, you should. Why waste time – an important commodity for Judges and for lawyers – if you don’t need to? All of the Judges indicated that they are happy to conference with you before a trial or a hearing to settle the case; but be ready for the trial or hearing if it is actually scheduled that day, if it does not settle.

We don’t love lawyers who prepare unrealistic pre-trial memorandums for settlement conferences. We understand that lawyers must be paid and that you work for your clients; however, it hurts your credibility to come into a settlement conference with wildly unrealistic suggestions for settlement. Experienced lawyers know what is or is not realistic. It’s your responsibility to help educate your clients on what is really going to happen in these cases. This is better for you and your goal of getting paid; as well as for your clients in their goal of resolving these cases.

We love you when you get to court on time; or if you have to be in two different courtrooms, at least check in so that we know you are alive and well and will be coming. As one Judge eloquently put it: “Don’t saunter in at 11:00 a.m. for your 9:00 a.m. case with no explanation.”

We don’t love you when you make oral motions; particularly, when a case is only up for status. Making an oral motion denies your opponent notice and an opportunity to look into the issue. Making an oral motion during a crowded status call is a sure way to make the Judge unhappy.

When motions involve discovery – a topic that Judges hate – we love you when you are specific as to what you want and what has not been provided. Let us know why you need this information. If you are on the receiving end of a Motion for Discovery remember that Judges are going to order that you produce relevant information. Our view of relevant is probably broader than your clients. You should educate them about this fact.

In hearings or trials, we love you when you stipulate to what you can. Don’t waste time on things that are unimportant to the issue that you want us to decide. Judges love stipulations that save time. Be intellectually honest; don’t try to trick us into ruling your way. Don’t say that a case says something that it doesn’t say. Judges love lawyers who get to the point in a prompt and efficient manner. If you are mentioning a case for the first time at a trial or hearing, have copies of the case for us and your opponent.

In a courtroom during a hearing or trial, we don’t love lawyers who talk or argue with the other lawyer in front of the bench. This is a waste of time for you and for the Judge. The other lawyer is not going to be deciding the case. They are representing their client’s interest and it is unlikely that you are going to change their mind. Your job is to try to help us make up our minds in making a decision. On that same topic, personal attacks against the other lawyer are unprofessional and not ever appropriate. Your opponent can be “mistaken”; don’t say that he or she is a “liar”. Focus on the real issues not things that are tangential or irrelevant to what we, as Judges, have to decide.

Judges don’t love lawyers who argue after they have ruled. This applies to both objections and to substantive rulings. Nothing is more certain to upset a Judge than to argue after the Judge has ruled. Rulings on objections are not “an invitation for further argument”. If you disagree with the ruling on a substantive issue, you can file an appropriate motion to reconsider.

We love you when you remember that, sadly, we have more than just your case before us at any one time. Don’t assume that a Judge remembers everything that’s happened in your particular case. If there is something important that you want us to be sure to recall, we like you to remind us of it either in your written motion or in your argument on the motion.

After Judges rule, someone has to draft the order. Typically, Judges like the prevailing party to draft the order. However, remember only put in the order things that were ruled on. If it wasn’t argued and ruled on, you cannot put it in the order. We don’t love you if you do so! Also, in orders setting hearings, it is helpful to list all the petitions that will be up for hearing in the court order. That way everyone is on the same page and there can be no dispute as to what is up for hearing on the next court date.

Judges do not love lawyers who unnecessarily inflate the cost of litigation. As mentioned before, we love lawyers who only fight the fights that must be fought. Do not let your client be emotion driven. It makes no sense to spend $500 in attorney fees to argue about the crockpot which cost $75. Experienced lawyers explain these facts of life to their clients. In the long run this is better for you in your quest to be a well-paid family law lawyer; and, for your client in their quest to obtain a divorce and move on with their lives.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the Judges overwhelmingly think that most of the lawyers who appear before them are courteous and professional in how they handle their cases. To some extent, we all share the fear that this article is preaching to the choir. Being a member of the Illinois State Bar Association Family Law Section Council is probably a sign that you are one of those courteous, professional and civil lawyers we already love. We can only hope that this article gets circulated to those who don’t fit that description. ■

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Judge Anderson is a Circuit Judge in the 18TH Judicial Circuit Court.