To all Doper Lawyers...your first case...

When you were sitting at counsel table for your first case and had your arguments ready to go, were you terrified that, even though you had done your research, you had missed something obvious that would make you look like a fool and have the whole courtroom laughing at you?

I hope so, because that’s the way I feel for tomorrow’s hearing.*
*Yes, I’m still a law student, but I’m representing a family member in magistrate court in a state where a non-attorney representative can speak for the party. But I consider this my first case…

Sure, definitely. I’m not even sure what I would consider my first case, as I had several court appearances as a law student as well, and I don’t remember what my first one was. But I absolutely had that feeling that I was an imposter, dressing up in a suit and holding a briefcase and that surely people would point and laugh and say, “Ha! What do you think YOU are doing here?” Ignore those feelings, fake it until you make it as they say, and go forward. You are smart. You are prepared. You know your facts better than anyone else in the room. If hit with an unexpected question, you will take a deep breath. You will speak slowly. You can and will respond in an intelligent fashion. You can do it! Good luck and let us know how it goes.

The night before my first court appearance, I practiced for something like an hour before the mirror, and wrote down answers to all possible questions on a piece of paper. When I went there, the magistrate did not even open her mouth except to say at the end, “Bail granted”. Good luck, and trust me you will i) do well and ii)you will be nervous before appearances for many many years if not forever.

Up and at em Counsel.

Heh…short answer: yes.

Longer and hopefully more entertaining version:

My “first case” was actually a docket of 20+ assorted paternity/child support/contempt cases. I’d just started my first law job as a child support attorney for the state, the regular attorney for this particular county got sick, and I got tapped to go in his place.

Sure I’d done both Moot Court and Mock Trial in law school, but this was different. This was real. Damn right I was nervous. I was trying the cases cold. No chance to even flip through the files. Had a clerk handing me files and whispering in my ear what type of case each was. Struggled through the first few cases, but I seemed to be doing ok. I was asking the right questions, getting my evidence admitted, Judge was ruling as I expected. And then it happened.

Suddenly, the Judge looked right at me, barked “Mr. Oakminster, I need to see you in chambers. Right now.” And then left the bench without another word.

Oh Shit! What had I done? Obviously something horrible. This Judge was mad, and about to get me disbarred, thrown in jail, and/or flogged on the public square.

Having no other viable option, I somewhat meekly left the courtroom, and entered chambers…palms sweating, envisioning even more dire consequences about to befall me, ending my legal career before it was even really started…

The Judge gave me an icy stare for a minute as I entered…then smiled, put his feet up on his desk, and told me to relax. He just wanted a smoke, and enjoyed hazing new lawyers a little. He invited me to light up as well, and I did. We had our smokes and talked about fishing or something for a few minutes, then went back out and finished up the docket.

my first case was as a law student, working in a clinical program. It was a speak-to-sentence for an older gent in his sixties, in a poorer region of Ontario. The court was sitting in the local Legion Hall. Going in, we knew that there was a good chance he would get jail time (impaired driving).

Everything went as expected; yes, I was nervous, and yes, after all my submissions, he was sentenced and led out by the police. Little, hunched over guy, wearing a grey suit jacket that had seen better days, off to serve time in his sixties.

I felt badly for him, but was also sure I’d done what I could.

Then, a few weeks later, I got a lovely letter from him, thanking me for speaking for him, and what a comfort it had been to have me representing his interests, knowing that he was facing jail time. Made my day and my month! I still have that letter from my first client.

Good luck tomorrow, counsel. I’m sure you’ll be nervous as hell, and that you’ll do a great job!

BTW, to the OP, here’s some advice which I learnt the very hard way. Don’t get into the habit of representing family. Its a bloody minefield. Do the minimum you can do before chucking them iff to someone else.

Well, considering that legal representation is pretty formulaic, just stay awake. The judges are bored, and the possibilities for Perry Mason-style dramatics are limited.

I remember my first jury trial. I was an intern and was defending a guy accused of selling $20 worth of marijuana. I knew the case pretty well, and was exciting. We picked the jury, and that went okay. The prosecutor then made his opening statement. My turn came, I stood before the jury. They were all looking at me, expecting some rebuttal to the argument they just heard outlining the expected testimony of the officer who watched the whole thing go down. My mind went completely blank. I couldn’t think of a thing to say, although I had planned out my opening carefully. I hadn’t planned how I would begin and I froze. Since then, no matter how confident or comfortable I am with the fact of my case, I plan precisely the first and last thing I will say. I sometimes alter it in the heat of battle, but I always have it to fall back on if I need it.

So, how did it go in court today?

I am not a lawyer but that sounds like really good advice.

Ralph, Ralph, Ralph, whatever shall we do with you, our handy little legal commentator.

Have fun with your court appearance, jtgain. Since you are prepared, you will do fine. Look forward to the opposition or the judge challenging your arguments, for it will give you a chance to show what you and your arguments are made of. If things go sideways, don’t sweat it, just deal with it, for that is part of the game. Enjoy putting your skills to work!

Try to get as much face time with the judge as possible on minor matters when you start practising, for being comfortable presenting arguments and discussing matters with the judge will make court appearances a lot less stressful.

For myself, my first appearances were adjournments, which got me used to the court environment without much at risk and without need for much preparation beyond being familiar with the progress of the cases and the reasons for and against the request. Then there was a gradual increase, for example bail court and interim civil procedural motions, rather than jumping right in to trials, and quite a bit of junioring for trials, which was quite comforting.

My first trial flying solo was only one day long – a sleeping beauty rape case. My presentation was so hypnotic (well, boring to be honest), that at the end of the afternoon, the judge rose from his dias, walked to the side of the courtroom, and knocked himself flat on the floor by walking into the wall (he was a visiting judge, so my guess is that is where the door was in his home courtoom).

Thanks for all of the replies. I think it went well. (Even though I actually puked in the bathroom this morning. Moot Court: no problem. But this was for REAL!) I made all of the points I wanted to make. The judge had a poker face, but seemed to carefully consider my arguments. She will rule within 5 business days…

Congrats! Glad you didn’t puke on the judge.

It gets a lot better, and a lot more fun, given time (litigating, not puking, that is).

What a great way for you to end the year!

As a 1L I made an appearance as a “petitioner’s advocate” in a Temporary Order of Protection case. Basically one attorney supervised a crew of law students and our major job was to interview the petitioners and help them draft their petitions. My only responsibilities in court were to stand with the petitioner for moral support, and make sure the evidence got entered (some photographs of her injuries). I was so terrified my knees were literally knocking - I didn’t even know that really happened.

Absolutely scared as hell! After seven years as a public defender, I still occasionally get nervous. I think it helps, actually. And once you start talking, you’ll be fine. Good luck, and let us know how it goes.

For fun: my first trial (not appearance, but actual trial) was a trespass case. After the Commonwealth (prosecutor) put on their evidence, I argued my motion to strike. Denied. And I just froze. I didn’t know what to do next. The judge then turned to the Commonwealth, and said, “there is a big gaping hole in your evidence.” We’ll shit… I won, but I don’t know how.

Hey, I’ve been in court quite a bit…just reporting on what I saw. I know, anything that conflicts with the “legal drama BS” is attacked. But yes, the silly nature of most courtroom procedure is appreciated! The solemn robed judges…who are asleep most of the time-can’t be true!

I just did my first one a couple of weeks ago, before a Tribunal, representing my company. I’m just a student but because it’s a Tribunal I don’t need to be a lawyer to represent.

I knew the other side was pretty dodgy in what they were claiming, and I was ready to prove it. I gave our side of the matter and the other guy asked for a settlement, which I refused. Essentially, he bought stolen property that we sell. That property is a voucher. We had had the vouchers reported stolen, so we deactivated the codes. He claimed we should compensate him, because he had a (forged) invoice from one of our subagents. I suspected (and hinted) but could not prove that he forged the invoice.* So I wasn’t keen to settle, and I refused the offer.

Magistrate ruled for us, and the other side accepted that. This dispite the fact my voice had been all shaky and breathy and I sounded (in my own ears) like a 12 year old playing cops and robbers. Not at all the strident Voice of Justice!! I’d practiced the night before.

I turned to sit down, my nerves kinda shattered, and I promptly fell off my heels, stumbled, had my boss catch me, and finally settled heavily in a chair, and the other side laughed at me.

Is it now that I mention I’m really thinking of being a barrister? Because that is not the most graceful start. But yeay, I won my first case!

*From an evidentiary perspective the magistrate let me get away with murder, but I suspect it was because it’s a Tribunal which is meant to settle the matter. We could have gone to court if it failed. But man, the hearsay I got away with! The opinions I advanced! The facts I assumed that weren’t exactly in evidence! I was shocked!

So you won, and didn’t puke on the adjudicator. Sounds like a fine day!

Hah, yes that’s right, plus there was alcohol afterward, and I didn’t puke that either.

Winning! :smiley:

Now a follow up question. After it was over, did you say, “Damn, I should have said that!” or “I forgot to say this!” “Fuck me, I feel bad for those people that got an idiot like me!”

If so, then good, because I feel the same way. I have a whole week to wait to see how the judge rules…

Thanks again for the replies…