By Vivian Uzoma
Sometime last week, I was in court and shortly after, the judge sat. In the meantime, the big boys were coming in one after the other. The day was going to be a long one but I came prepared. Things were going as expected until a particular matter was mentioned.
The parties were in court and it was time to announce appearances. There were several lawyers in the matter but when one particular counsel announced his appearance, the judge’s countenance changed. It did not take me long to know why.
The lawyer was coming into the matter for the first time and when the court inquired as to whether he had followed the procedure for change of counsel, he started arguing with the court. In his view, that procedure was a mere formality that could be dispensed with. The court insisted on giving him a date to do the needful but counsel kept arguing.
The judge was incensed and stated angrily, “you see why I don’t like seeing you in my court? You don’t take instructions and you keep arguing unnecessarily.” While the court was addressing him, counsel kept flipping his file without looking at the judge. This annoyed the judge the more and he sought to know which chambers counsel was coming from. Counsel told him and he ordered that the principal should appear personally on the next adjourned date.
In the meantime, the client was squirming in discomfort. Something within him must have told him that his lawyer had been marked by this court. When the case was adjourned and they went out, the client kept reminding counsel to tell his principal to be in court on the next date.
As a young lawyer, one thing I learned early was to keep a smile on my face and maintain eye contact with the court if I was being addressed. The look of attention will make you think I was taking instructions for exams.
No matter how good you are or how good your client’s case is, antagonising the court is not proper. Some good cases have been lost because a judge felt insulted by counsel’s tone or disrespectful attitude. Before you tell me it is part of the court’s job to bear with lawyers, let me remind you that the court is human.
☑️ Address the court respectfully even when you don’t feel like it;
☑️ Listen carefully to the court’s instructions even when it is contrary to that given by your principal;
☑️ Maintain a respectful posture before the court even if that posture is giving you stomach pain;
☑️ If you must argue, do that with fellow counsel and not the court.
☑️ Apologise to the court when you are wrong.
The following should be a basic part of your court vocabulary: “thank you my Lord”, we are grateful for the tip, my Lord”, “with respect my Lord”, “we are sorry my Lord”, “As the court pleases”, “we are well guided my Lord”, “may we take leave sir”, etc. You will never go wrong with these phrases.
Finally, don’t botch a client’s case just to prove a point. Don’t be marked by a court as a lawyer with no manners. You may think that is boldness but it is recklessness and it comes with consequences.
Do have a great day.