Keep your head to the sky

  Photo:  South Lake Union totem

Photo:  South Lake Union totem

Judges don't like it when us attorneys can't stop bickering.  They are irritated by having to deal with our exchanges of snipes, digs and downright insults.

Last month after a trial ended, two jurors followed me down to the courthouse lobby.  They wanted to talk about what happened.  Both commented on how impressed they were that the attorneys acted in a civil manner.  Sure we disagreed with each other and objected and there were tense moments.  But we were not overly disrespectful like the lawyers they saw on television.  They appreciated that.    I thought this was an interesting comment because I could not stand the lead defense attorney.  Every time he opened his mouth I could feel my teeth clench.

I'm not saying we shouldn't fight when we need to.  Our job as lawyers is not to make a judge happy.  But there is  merit to the old proverb that we should pick our battles wisely.

Here are some strategies on how to avoid being drawn into petty fights before judge or jury:

  • Learn how to maintain a calm yoga like façade
  • Master the art of not rolling eyes
  • Bite tongue
  • Be physically still - don't ruffle papers, drum with pen, or slam iPad on table
  • Don't use counsel's first name
  • Slow down when speaking
  • Slow down when breathing
  • Do not interrupt
  • Don't try to defend everything
  • Don't try to justify everything
  • Have faith in the truth
  • Wait your turn
  • When the other side takes your turn wait for your next turn
  • You don't need to be overly polite
  • Don't be rude
  • Be respectful even when wronged
  • Carefully limit and pick your fighting moments and then maximize them
  • If you hear yourself whining: "but your honor" over and over again - stop it.
  • When you lose your temper and start fighting anyway - forgive yourself and move on

Title:  Keep your head to the sky.  By Maurice White 1973