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5 Mistakes you must NEVER make in Court

We all know that everyone makes mistakes, and lawyers are no exception. The only problem is that when lawyers make mistakes in the course of handling a client’s case, the consequences may be very embarrassing or damning, depending on the gravity of the mistake or its implication for the client and to the image of the law profession. Lawyers may face civil liability, sanctions or disciplinary proceedings. In some more serious situations, their case may be dismissed, a default judgment may be entered, and causes of action, parties or affirmative defences may be stricken.

Many mistakes are correctable and, if addressed and handled properly, will end in nothing more than some negligible inconvenience. If handled improperly, even an easily corrected mistake can become a nightmare. The best thing a lawyer can do therefore is to make sure that as much as is possible, mistakes do not happen. So what are the mistakes you should never allow yourself to make in court? Here they are in no particular order of importance:

NEVER dress inappropriately: The story is told of the lawyer who had a case to attend in court on Monday morning. He discovered while at his office that he was not with the keys. The bad part was that his lawyer apparel was well ironed, starched and hung…on the wall in his now inaccessible office. So that he will not be late, he had to go to court in, of all things, his biker’s apparel, since he took his bike to work that morning. You can imagine what the self-consciousness, both the real and imagined stares and contempt from both the judges and the audience would have done to his self-confidence, preparation and most importantly delivery. The story may appear far-fetched, but don’t miss out on the lesson: never let your dressing speak negative about you in court.

Never act over-familiar with the judge: You may wonder if this is right. After all, is a little good manners that bad? What you need to understand is that within the court environment, the watchword is professionalism. In this light, any action which may in any way serve to undermine the professional standard of the court, or subject same to ethical doubts, is unconditionally frowned upon. Even if you know the judge on a personal basis, suspend any show of comradeship or familiarity till you are well finished with the case at hand.

Never lose your calm, no matter what direction your case seem to be going: You know, despite your best preparations and expectations as an attorney, things do go awry in court. Cases take turns you never envisaged and this can give you a feeling akin to being in the passenger’s seat on a bumpy ride along a contoured road. When this happens, the worst thing you can allow to happen, is to take out your “frustration” on the judge, your opposing counsel or even the witnesses. Trust me, it will work against you and your case, and your client will suffer for it. Worse, it will create a reputation for you which you will definitely not fancy. As an attorney, you must be professional in court at all times, even when your case is going downhill.

Not knowing the facts: As impossible as it may sound, maybe even unbelievable, many lawyers go to court without having all the circumstantial and legal facts about the case they are handling. Never allow yourself get caught in the thought that what you know is enough. Nothing is farther from the reality. Insist on getting all the facts, and equip yourself with all the legal facts as it concerns with the aspect of law your case falls under

Never forget to change your mobile phone’s profile to silent: Yes. This happens an awful lot of times. Imagine the distraction and disorientation a lawyer or judge paying rapid attention will suffer, if suddenly the mobile of the opposing counsel or even the prosecuting counsel rings during interrogation or argument being anchored by the other counsel. In as much as digital technology rules have been applied to allow the use of mobile devices and tablets in court for citation purposes; that is no excuse for you neglecting to put your device on the silent profile. If you want to avoid justified anger which may be manipulated to your disadvantage, put your device on silent if you will be consulting it in the course of your court appearance and if not, switch it off. Court sessions don’t last forever.

Do you have comments and opinions, questions? Head over to the comments box and give expression to your thoughts.

lawpavilion • October 21, 2014


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