My first time in Court as a Lawyer
So I had my first day in Court as a Lawyer and I thought I would share my experience with you so that you might feel less intimidated the first time you venture into the Court room solo.
nerves are normal
I was so nervous. It started on the Friday before Monday when I was due in Court. I started to get that ‘circus’ stomach where it felt like there were performers jumping all around the place. You know, that feeling you probably get before exams (I know I did). It stuck around all weekend despite my best efforts to distract myself by spending time with friends and keeping busy. On Monday morning it was at its peak, I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t even stomach coffee. When I got to work, I was visibly nervous. I knew this because despite often being able to hide my nerves well, to the point of others commenting on how confident I am when really inside I am screaming “shit, shit, shit”, one of my colleagues commented that I looked nervous. I thought, “oh no, my cover is broken!”. Luckily for me, my Client was a lovely person and has confidence in me so that helped my nerves. I also had my two bosses in Court that day for different matters and so they were there for back up and support. I don’t think there is any way to stop nerves, well at least not in my experience, but here is what I do to help mine. Deep breaths, stopping and just taking a few moments when I feel myself panicking to take some deep breaths in and out and to slow myself down. Remembering that everyone in the history of ever felt nervous for their first time in Court, and probably the next time and the time after that. Like anything, it takes time to feel confident doing something you’re new to. Also, nerves are often a sign that it is important to you to do a good job, so it means you care. Remind yourself that it will be over in a matter of hours, then you can say you’ve done it, and you’ve got your first time in Court under your belt and you’re on your way. Try to get a good nights’ sleep, I made my plans earlier in the day so I could be home for the night and have a shower, relax and get a good rest before the big day.
preparation will help
With that being said, I didn’t sleep well the night before because I was anxious and I woke up before my 5:30am alarm. I caught an early bus as I wanted to be at work early. For me, not being rushed helps me to feel in control and stay calm when I am anxious. It also means you have more time to prepare for things that you may not have contemplated would happen. For example, on the morning of Court my Client wasn’t at my office when we agreed to meet, and 10 minutes later (and 5 minutes before Court) there was still no sign of them. I then got a call from my colleagues to advise that they were caught in bad traffic and needed me to escort their Client to Court, if they arrived. They didn’t, again bad traffic. So I left for Court feeling concerned for my colleagues and Clients being present when we were called in. But because I was at work early, I had everything in my bag ready to go and so I was able to deal with this situation without panicking. I had prepared my Court documents folder on the Friday before, organising it in a way that helped me find things. I also made a list of relevant facts that might be asked. And they were, so having that information handy was really helpful to keep me calm and feel like “you can do this”. I had my appearance slip filled out, you can get these from the Court. I have photocopied some so that I can keep them on hand to use in future. I also practiced my “may it please the Court, my name is Patten, P-A-T-T-E-N, initials M A, Solicitor with Journey Family Lawyers and I appear on behalf of the Applicant” speech in my head over the weekend. A colleague of mine wrote this down and other things she planned to say and had it ready in Court. Do whatever works for you.
accept things probably won’t go to plan
Court is notorious for being unpredictable. You can have an idea of what is likely to happen, and sometimes it might eventuate, but most likely things you didn’t expect will happen. The other party may not show up, or in my case, they may show up at 10:30am as an adjournment is about to be granted. Yep, as the Court was about to grant an adjournment, a phone call came in to say the other party was downstairs. Up to that point, things had gone smoothly – I had made my appearance, answered questions, told the Court what had happened in the matter so far. An adjournment, which is what my Client and I were prepared for was about to be granted and then boom, curve ball. In that moment, I stood there and I was thinking, “Shit, I wasn’t prepared for that, what do I do now…” You see as we sat outside the Court for an hour and a half and the time went on, I became more confident that the other party wasn’t showing up and it became clearer what I would be asking the Court to do. But that’s what happens – you can be prepared for everything you think might happen and then you get taken by surprise. I think it is important to remember that while being prepared is a great idea, you need to go to Court with an open mind and accept that the day may go one of many ways and to learn to roll with the punches.
practice makes perfect
I have only been to Court solo once, so I am hardly an expert. I know I still have a lot to learn, but one thing I already know is that Court is like driving. You get better at it by doing it. Sure, practice and guidance helps – going to Court and observing, being mentored by your experienced colleagues, asking questions…but being confident, learning to adapt, knowing what to do, those things develop as you do it. No one is perfect for their first time in Court (well I highly doubt it). Like anything in life, you get better at it as you keep doing it. So, like learning to swim – sometimes the best way to start is to jump in and start learning.
know Court etiquette
There are a lot of etiquette rules in Court. A bow as you walk in and before you leave (when the Judge is in the Court). Standing as the Judge walks in or out of the Court. Making sure that your mobile phone is turned off. Standing when the Judge is talking to you. Making sure you are sitting when the Judge is talking to the other party. Making sure that you are on the right side of the bar table. Because I didn’t work in a firm before I was admitted, I didn’t know a lot of these rules. My first exposure was during PLT when I went to Court. So, if you haven’t – I would recommend going to Court when you can (during Uni holidays, mornings/afternoons off work). It will help your confidence if you know those rules and it will help you to not feel silly by making a basic mistake in Court. You can also educate your Client with these simple things to put them at ease if they haven’t been to Court before.
I hope you found this helpful, if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me on Social Media or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.