We recently wrote that lawyers are people too. It has been interesting for me to watch client reactions when Melissa occasionally finds herself needing to remind the attorney/clients that judges are people also. Once an attorney becomes a judge, and puts on the black (usually) robe, a new relationship develops between their former colleagues and them. Some of this is a matter of position power, some of it is to avoid conflicts of interest. Some new judges may let their power go to their head, but some of this is an artificially created perspective, which is the reason Melissa has to remind them. It is probably different in smaller cities and towns where the judges and lawyers socialize because they know each other well. The separation is more obvious in larger venues where the opportunities for socialization are more limited to official events which are “neutral” playing fields – like Bar functions. But, one point not to overlook is that judges are people too in terms of how to try a case in front of them. Yes, they are almost always formerly lawyers and yes, they usually know the law. But, it is sometimes foreign to lawyers that judges, just like jurors, need to be kept “entertained” when presenting a case. Showing, as well as telling, the judge about the case works better than treating a bench trial or hearing as a dry, bland, academic exercise. It is important, of course, to take a judge’s style into account, but while knowing there are limits to the “entertainment” aspects of a presentation, clearly, using trial tools and presentation aids help bring the abstract, sometimes boring, case details to life and make them more relevant – even to the judge.
I cannot count the number of times I have said to an attorney, “Judges are people too,” only to have the attorney look at me first, with astonishment, then, upon reflecting on my comment, nod their agreement. I have presented many continuing legal education (C. L. E.) programs in which judges were among the audience. Invariably, whether I am lecturing about judge’s expectations regarding attorneys’ courtroom behavior, length of time for jury selection, or the use of visually appealing demonstrative evidence, one or more judges comment on the information I am presenting, agreeing with everything I am saying. The judges I have encountered have indicated they, like the ordinary people who serve on juries, expect attorneys to: (1) be good communicators; (2) use visual aids to enhance the words they speak; (3) be respectful of those to whom they are speaking, including learning the correct pronunciation of their name; (4) honor the time commitments people have made for their case, including not wasting anyone’s time; and (5) conduct themselves professionally when dealing with opposing counsel, adverse witnesses, and, most of all, their clients. Attorneys, in their quest to “win” their cases within the adverse legal system, sometimes forget that the judge is watching them; evaluating them, not only as members of their shared profession, but as human beings; and last, but not least, hoping they will move their case along efficiently, so that lunch can be enjoyed on time. As I said, judges are people too!