There’s one place in the legal field where the economy can’t scale back the use of lawyers: the courtroom. If you’re in one, you need one. As corporations and other big-spending clients trim their legal bills, many attorneys are finding a renewed purpose as litigators.
Litigators are time-honored and respected positions in the law. As such, through the long history of the profession, a number of often-observed, yet infrequently discussed, traditions have naturally developed in the field. Those who have moved into litigation, or are considering it, will need to quickly get up to speed on these customs in order to be effective. As experienced litigators who have tried more than a half-dozen cases, we here at Laws For Attorneys are well-versed in the unspoken conventions that define the litigation culture. Below we address commonly observed “do”s and “don’t”s that are now well-established among trial lawyers.
- Do – Make strong, emphatic points.
- Don’t – Use profanity unnecessarily. Some profanity will usually be appropriate, but overuse can sometimes have the opposite effect. The most effective courtroom advocates instinctively know when a strategic “f-word” will strengthen the point, but know those occasions may be as rare as once every five to ten minutes.
- Do – Speak loudly.
- Don’t – Scream without pause for a prolonged time. Volume conveys the importance of the proceedings and the urgency of the matter at hand, and so an occasional wordless shriek may force the jury to pay attention. However, studies of juries have shown that some may find uninterrupted screaming distracting or annoying.
- Do – Dress aggressively.
- Don’t – Wear anything with feathers. Bright neon colors and pinstripes let the jury know that you’re a winner and so is your client. A boa made of ostrich feathers, however, runs the risk of upsetting animal lovers.
- Do – Have mastery of the English language.
- Don’t – Obsess about grammar. Periods, commas, and other punctuation marks may look good on paper, but also reveal a lack of concern with being time-efficient.
- Do – Laminate exhibits.
- Don’t – Use construction paper and crayons that are similar colors. The end-product might be difficult for others to read.
- Do – Intimidate opposing counsel with arm motions.
- Don’t – Rest your hands on a podium, desk, or other surface. A general rule of thumb is that a litigator’s hands should never fall below his or her shoulders.
- Do – Treat attorneys with respect.
- Don’t – Argue with opposing counsel about anything, whether or not you may feel that the issue is material or relevant to your client’s position. This is highly unprofessional and will not be tolerated by a judge.
- Do – Develop a photographic memory.
- Don’t – Make copies of documents. Paper documents suggest that you’d prefer not to have to converse personally with others about the material, which may appear rude, anti-social, or egotistical. Perhaps worse, making physical copies shows a lack of concern for the environment.