August 2018
Tips from the Bench: Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil

By Phillip Simpler

Paul, Plevin, Sullivan & Connaughton LLP

Since 2007, the Honorable Joel R. Wohlfeil has been a San Diego Superior Court judge. He presides over Department 73 and handles mostly civil cases. It was an honor to sit down with Judge Wohlfeil for our “Tips from the Bench” series.

1. What was your path to the bench?

I practiced as a plaintiff’s attorney for more than 20 years and tried cases all over the country. I was accepted as a member of the American Board of Trial Attorneys and with the support of my peers, I submitted application to be considered for appointment to the bench. In 2007, I was appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

2. Do you have any tips for newer attorneys in San Diego?

Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up about it, and don’t take an adverse ruling personally. How you respond to adversity will impact how you are perceived by the bench. Judges talk about lawyers just as much, if not more, than lawyers talk about judges. Your conduct in one courtroom can impact your reputation throughout the community.

A lawyer’s familiarity and comfort in the courtroom is important. However, it is difficult to get significant civil trial experience, particularly early in your career. Newer attorneys should make an effort to interact and learn from experienced attorneys. Joining an Inn of Court is an excellent option, and it is always beneficial to observe hearings and trials in other cases. Reading books authored by trial attorneys, such as Irving Younger, can also help to bridge that gap. 

3. Do you have any pet peeves that attorneys should avoid when appearing in your courtroom?

In an effort to ensure that motions are heard in a timely manner, I do not limit the number of motions that can be heard on a given day. As a result, there is not always going to be a lot of time for oral argument. It is vital to be concise and to lead with your best argument. I appreciate when attorneys are cognizant of my time.