While I have many strategic tips for practicing in Travis County Courts, this list is more about stating the obvious. I wouldn’t share these if they didn’t actually happen, so I wanted to make a list of reminders. You don’t want to be memorable for wrong reasons!
1. Second-guess the Judge’s decision.
I’m not referring to a party’s right to file a Motion for Reconsideration of a Judge’s decision. A party is purely within their rights to do so (but, maybe rethink filing more than one for the same decision). No, I’m referring to becoming argumentative with the Judge during the ruling or after the ruling. This is not a good idea. It’s an even worse idea to question the Judge as if to question whether she understood your argument. Yep, it’s happened. Also, don’t argue with the Judge after she signed the order solidifying her ruling. That’s happened, too. Respect the decision, and move forward as needed, whether it be by motion for reconsideration or by appeal.
2. Interrupt the Judge or talk over the Judge.
This simply goes without saying. However, I think some attorneys are so comfortable in the courtroom that they forget where they are. You shouldn’t, as this is not only disrespectful, but bad for you and potentially bad for your client. Instead, be on your best behavior, and be aware of when the Judge is speaking. Even if you have a powerful argument and the Judge has a multitude of questions, do not interrupt or argue with the Judge as to how the hearing is handled. Just don’t. I’ve seen it happen. Plus, all you’ll do is distract from your meritorious argument, which is the last thing you or your client should want.
3. Stay seated while addressing the Judge.
You would think it’s common knowledge that you should stand when addressing the Judge. Apparently, it’s not. Try staying seated, and see how long the Judge takes to interrupt you and put you in your place. I can almost guarantee it will be in record time. If you have a long hearing, wear comfortable shoes. Stand, stand, stand when addressing the Judge! Yep, it’s happened. If you need a refresher, and for other courtroom rules, read the Rules of Decorum in the District Court Local Rules, Chapter 12.
4. Don’t bring courtesy copies of your documents.
We are an electronic world now, and that includes the clerk and the Travis County Courts. While I still remember hard copy files at the clerk’s office, they have given way to electronic filing. There’s a 99.9% chance the Judge for your hearing has never seen your motion, response, reply, pleadings, or briefing. There’s a 100% chance the Judge doesn’t have a hard copy to follow along. Before you leave your office, print three copies of everything you plan to present to the Judge. Throw in an extra copy just for good measure. Also print your opposing counsel’s pleading or brief. You’ll look like a courtroom rockstar when you hand over a copy of what your opposing counsel forgot to bring. The Rules actually require a courtesy copy for hearings, as outlined in the Procedures of the Travis County District Court Local Rules.
Don’t be remembered for the wrong reasons. While this list states the obvious, some attorneys must need a refresher based on my observations, because they still happen! Seriously. Sit through a short docket of several cases and you could probably come up with a list of your own.