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Tips for Appearing Before a New Judge

I expect this post will be useful to lawyers and law students.  It’s based on a presentation given by Justice Dianne Oleskiw as part of the Six-minute Criminal Court Judge program I attended this past weekend.  Her Honour has been on the bench for about two years so was the perfect presenter.  She made good use of her six minutes and provided tips that I would say are useful for appearing before any Judge, no matter if it’s their first day on the bench or if they’ve been sitting for over 25 years.

Justice Oleskiw provided six tips (I have added in my own commentary as well):

1. Introducing yourself builds credibility. A Judge who is referring to you as counsel probably doesn’t know your name so it would be best to mention it at that point.  Although in court I will be called Mr. Goodman I personally like to introduce myself using my first name.  It just seems much more personable to say “Good morning Your Honour it’s Adam Goodman for Mr./Ms. [client’s name]” as opposed to the more formal “Goodman, initial A”.

2.  Provide help to the Judge if asked to do so. It is quite possible a Judge may be unfamiliar with an area of the law or case you are speaking about.  By educating the Judge you will be assisting in the decision making process.  More is better than less.  I would also note that you should be correct and not misstate the law and if their is conflict on a point be sure and point that out to the Judge.

3.  Be on time for court.  If you happen to be late, apologize.

4.  Be accurate with the evidence. Do not state something with confidence unless you are 100% certain.  In cases where you are uncertain then say that and defer to the Judge’s recollection.  I have no doubt that even one error in stating the evidence will make you much less credible.  It can be very difficult to take notes during a trial, especially while conducting a cross-examination, so I can’t see many Judges being upset if you do not exactly recall an evidentiary point as long as you are honest about it.

5.  Be civil with everyone in the courtroom and do not demean others. While I try and get along with everyone there will be times when I don’t see eye to eye with another party, particularly a Crown Attorney.  It is important to never let this difference of opinion become personal and for the Judge to see this.  I would note that this civility rule must also apply to all court staff.

6.  Formulate a vision of what the judgment should look like and be sure to address the strengths and weaknesses of your argument.
Becoming a good courtroom advocate is not an easy feat and can take years and years of practice.  The tips above are quite obvious yet are ones that many lawyers (in fact I would say most lawyers) will often forget.  Hearing them come directly from a Judge really drove the point home about how important these small and simple things can be in making a competent and effective courtroom presentation.

Do you have any tips for appearing before Judges (either new or with many years experience)?

This blog post was written by Toronto Criminal Lawyer Adam Goodman.  Adam can be reached at 416-477-6793 or by email at adam@aglaw.ca.