The types of judges you’ll meet in court and how to deal with them

April 17, 2013

CourtroomLast week, we covered the different types of attorneys that you’re likely to encounter in court.

The opposing attorney (or attorneys) really only make up part of the “human interaction” equation of going to court.  The other, perhaps more significant component is the judge.

Like attorneys, there are several types of judges, and hopefully, understanding them will leave you better prepared for your encounters in court.

The newbie

Believe or not, a newer judge is not exactly a good thing for a newer attorney.

Why?

For the plain and simple reason that this judge may have a lot of doubts about the law or practice, and if your opposing counsel is more seasoned than you – or even appears more seasoned than you – this judge may defer in some varying degree to that attorney’s perceived experience.

To make things worse is the fact that an inexperienced judge does not necessarily mean a newly appointed judge.  It could also mean a judge that was just transferred from another division (e.g. from probate to criminal).

The only real advice here is to make sure that you are very prepared and that you present your case very well.  Unfortunately, as with any judge, there’s only so much you can do, even with the law squarely on your side.

The rigid enforcer

This is another difficult judge for newer attorneys, and the reasons why will be apparent shortly.

This judge sees him- or herself as somewhat of a disciplinarian, enforcing both the law and the rules of the court.

As such, the judge will have very little tolerance for mistakes made by the parties or, possibly worse, the attorneys.

As a newer attorney, you will likely not have every rule and procedure perfectly memorized, and even if you do, it’s still possible to make human errors.

If you encounter this judge, thicken your skin as much as possible, and try not to take any attacks from the judge personally.

Aside from possible embarrassment, however, this judge can be problematic to the heart of your case if it happens that your understanding of the law differs from his or hers.  As can be gleaned from the type’s description so far, this judge is quite confident in his or her legal knowledge.

If your argument presents an understanding of the law different from the judge’s, he or she will likely view it as incorrect.

Thus, the best way to handle this judge is threefold: be as prepared and meticulous as possible, don’t take anything personally, and try to mold your arguments around the judge’s views, if you can pick up on them.

The easygoing counselor

This is likely one of the best judges to encounter, especially as a newer attorney.

As opposed to the rigid purist, the easygoing counselor does not see him- or herself as much as a director or enforcer, but as a mediator with the goal to help the parties reach a resolution.

To this end, ensuring that the rules of the court are followed is secondary to resolving the dispute between the parties to the best of everyone’s possible satisfaction.

This judge is not heavy-handed, nor does he or she treat attorneys disparagingly in any way.

However, as with the amicable attorney, this type is the judge first, and your friend second.  You still must make your best arguments because, if this judge is unable to get the parties to a resolution and must therefore decide the case, how friendly the judge was will have little bearing on how he or she will decide the case.

The flamboyant judge

This type of judge is easily recognizable.  If you haven’t been practicing long, you may not have encountered one yet, but if and when you do, it will be an unforgettable experience.

This judge throws decorum to the wind.  What does this mean exactly?

The best way to understand it is to see it firsthand, but, in short, the judge is usually very informal, is quite opinionated, can be quite abrasive, and sees no problem with embarrassing attorneys in front of the entire courtroom.

This type can be very vocal in the courtroom and often doesn’t let his or her opinions go unspoken.

Like the rigid enforcer, this judge is often supremely confident in his or her worldview and usually, but not always, has the experience to match.

Regardless, this type’s mere belief that he or she knows best is a great hindrance to newer attorneys whose arguments may challenge those beliefs.

The advice for dealing with this type is somewhat similar to that for the rigid enforcer, but with a much greater emphasis on getting a thick skin – although this judge may be notably less concerned with proper procedure.

An additional important point to note is that, although this judge may have a lot to say in the courtroom, there isn’t necessarily a correlation between what is spoken and what the judge ultimately decides.  So don’t let anything the judge says shake you up too much.

The veteran

The veteran judge is not necessarily identified by his or her number of years of experience.  Instead, the key characteristic of this type is that he or she, like so many other types, is very much set in his or her ways.  There are, however, additional implications for the veteran.

Aside from a possible inflexibility in the judge’s views on the law, there also may be a great deal of other “inflexibilities” on the part of the judge’s views – social, economic, or political.

In other words, the veteran may suffer more acutely from the same personal biases that afflict a great many other judges.  In addition, a veteran judge may be less concerned with recognizing these biases and preventing them from affecting his or her decisions.

In addition, this type is far more resistant to change than any others.

The advice here is similar to that for both the rigid enforcer and the flamboyant judge: try to recognize the judge’s biases, and tailor your arguments to appeal to them.

And just as is the case in dealing with any judge, a healthy amount of luck doesn’t hurt.