Three experienced judges offer advice on how family lawyers can improve their chances of winning cases.
The best advice I have for family law attorneys is to meet and confer with the other side long before you enter the courtroom. Nothing thrills me more than hearing two good attorneys tell me that they’ve met and conferred, they agree on the following issues (ideally, those issues are contained in a written stipulation they’re handing me), and they have narrowed the remaining contested issues. When I hear this, I know that they are working hard for their clients, they have done what they can to resolve things before coming to me, and that they prepared. I know that my time – and their clients’ money – is not being wasted.
– Hon. Judge Dianna Gould-Saltman, Superior Court of Los Angeles County
Provide Briefs to the Court on All Motions and Evidentiary Hearings or Trials
Whether it’s a settlement conference, motion hearing, or full-blown trial, a great attorney will always be prepared. While this may seem like common sense, I am often flabbergasted by the lack of preparation that I see from attorneys, both new and seasoned. It is very evident to a judge whether you know your case facts, case law, court rules, and rules of evidence. The best advice I can provide to accomplish this is to provide briefs to the court on all motions and evidentiary hearings or trials, even if the court does not require it. Your brief should be factually detailed, discuss current law, include applicable affidavits and exhibits, and be served upon the court in a prompt manner. Not only will a thorough brief show the court that you are a zealous advocate for your client, it will also help you be more prepared for your oral argument and/or witness examination, and may even encourage the opposing party to resolve the issues before having to appear in court.
– Hon. Kathleen M. McCarthy, Presiding Judge, Family Division, Third Circuit Court of Michigan
Problem-Solve Rather than Make War
One of the most difficult things for me as a practicing attorney years ago was to remain objective with my clients. I too easily bought into my client’s issues and story, and made the opposing party the enemy, which often translated into making my opposing counsel the enemy. It did not solve my client’s problems to join in the war among all four of us.
When I was on the bench, I recognized the same problem in too many attorneys. It was so much easier for me to be a judge and remain neutral between the parties, because I was required to hold one party’s “truth” in abeyance until I heard the other party’s “truth.” There was almost always some truth in each story and some misunderstanding of that truth in the other. My advice is to problem-solve, rather than make war, by pretending to be a judge and listening to both “truths” before moving forward with solutions.
– Marjorie A. Slabach, Private Judge and retired San Francisco Superior Court Commissioner. www.mslabach.com
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