February 2016

Tips from the Bench

By Hon. Joel Wohlfeil

San Diego Superior Court

Nearly three decades ago, I attended a trial lawyer's dinner at which I heard an exceptionally talented lawyer share the secrets of his success.  Though his presentation was good, I've long since forgotten the details or even his themes.  Instead, I recall the moderator, himself a hugely successful lawyer, applauding his colleague and showcasing the vast quantity of notes he had taken.  He emphasized that none of us no matter our age, experience or accomplishments — are too old to keep learning.  His point I've recalled.

Walk forward with me to June 2008.  I attended Judges College for two weeks.  (Yes, new Judges attend Judges College.)  One education course after another for two solid weeks, the purpose of which is to learn both law and the better practices of attitude, demeanor and the art of judging.  Taught by some of our most distinguished jurists in the State (including several of my San Diego colleagues).  Tremendous education, professional contacts, friendships ... a support system to discuss challenging cases/issues and obtain trustworthy advice.  Never too old to learn no matter our age, experience or accomplishments.

At the beginning of your career, your head is swimming with law, procedures, rules, practices not to mention learning the art of advocacy.  You can only learn so much through trial and error with, unfortunately, an emphasis on error. 

What to do?

The answer is, in part, continuing education.  Not to do so because it's mandatory but because of the value education adds to your career.  Professional contacts, friendships, networking ... a support system to discuss challenging cases/issues and obtain trustworthy advice ("benefits").  You'll still experience trial and error we all do, lawyers and Judges alike  but, with the benefits of education, you'll mitigate the error part. 

Not long ago, that same lawyer I referred to above, appeared in my courtroom.  His argument was zealous, prepared and entirely professional.  Based on the level of his advocacy, he had obviously followed the advice he gave to his audience thirty years ago ... to keep learning no matter his age, experience or accomplishments.