It’s hard to emulate the white male litigator, when you are 5’3, brown, and wearing a skirt suit. My first time at trial, my tactics were taught by what most of our community expects, the male attorney, with a powerful voice, sarcastic tone, and repetition of how many years of practice is how you got things done.
However, as a civil litigator, the field is changing. More women are becoming my colleagues, and to my excitement, more women of color are getting a chance in the courtroom. We have our own style, our own presentation, and our own way of taking command of the courtroom. However, as a new attorney there are struggles on what to do and how to do it. While there are resources available, not many are targeted at women of color and female litigators because there are not a lot of us practicing. With my current company, I have close to 30 jury trials within a seven-year span, which is a lot for a civil litigator. I am still nervous about my trials but not nervous about my presentation because I chose to learn how to command the courtroom.
Do your research
Whether you are working for yourself or for a big firm, you generally should know what counties you will be handling for your cases. Each county likely has its own website. Use it to see who is working at the courthouse. Use it to read up on the judges and learn the local rules of the courthouse and courtrooms. Take the time to visit some of the courtrooms. With the novel coronavirus, courthouse appearances are limited, but local Bar associations are still holding Zooms hearings, meetings with the judiciary, continuing legal education classes, and other meetings online. Most hearings are public and broadcast through YouTube. Watch one to get to know your judge and venue. Get to know the staff at the courthouse. They are a great resource for you. Talk to them and get them to tell you what their judge likes or does not like, i.e. does the judge want a physical binder for the hearing in addition to the e-filing.
In addition to researching your judge and venue, dedicate time to your legal work to research and sum up your argument. The fact is judges do not have a lot of time to read your motion. At a hearing they want you to get to the point quickly. Now with online hearings, times are assigned and time limits for arguments are strictly held. So how can you summarize your argument in three bullet points and have supportive case law that you can recall for each? Make a summary sheet before you go to court. Separate this summary sheet from your motion documents. Have the caselaw organized in the order presented the motion and easily accessible to you.
Being prepared also ties into doing your research because you will have to decide how you will present your motion, supporting evidence, and case law. Is it electronic? Did you make sure it will work regardless of the platform it is being run on? Has the other side seen your support prior to the hearing? What does the judge, court, and court reporter need prior to the hearing? If the technology does not work, do you have a backup? If you are doing hard copies, did you print enough for everyone, including the court reporter? Is your evidence in color for what needs to be in color? Do you have an electronic backup if your paper files get destroyed, you did not make enough copies, or the court asks you to send something in Word?
Do not underestimate the importance of pre-trial work. Diligent research coupled with preparation will give you a strong foundation to command the courtroom.