January 2016

Tips from the Bench

By Hon. Joel Wohlfeil

San Diego Superior Court

In November, I participated with Dave Fox and Johanna Schiavoni – a couple of splendid San Diego lawyers – in a presentation to an audience of emerging lawyers in D 73 of the HOJ. In anticipation of our presentation, I created a checklist for lawyers to consider. The checklist, as improved upon by Dave and Johanna, is below.

  1. Know your judge and his/her rules and procedures.
  2. Know the rules of civil/criminal procedure.
  3. Join an organization with which your practice area is compatible.
  4. Develop a mentor/take control of your career.
  5. Volunteer to be a part of a legal community sponsored project – clean the beaches, feed the elderly, donate blood (yes, these are all sponsored by the legal community).
  6. Control your firm’s costs.
  7. Add value to your firm/Initiative.
  8. Listen.
  9. Be thankful.
  10. In your arguments, be simple, tactful, respectful (courtesy of Professor Irving Younger).
  11. Don’t assume – use your resource materials/Credibility/Form (Forms of Pleading and Practice, Rutter Group).
  12. Develop an electronic library.
  13. Prioritize your arguments – best first/fewer better.
  14. Organize your presentation – if it doesn’t write, it doesn’t work (courtesy of Judge Kevin Enright).
  15. Establish goals/themes for every case.
  16. Use CACI/CALCRIM – know your elements.
  17. Be mindful of your record for appellate purposes.  

Many of these principles are nothing more than the evolution of what we learned in grade school – thankful, respectful, responsible, organized, involved, but each fundamentally sound, and all a part of the body of “better practices” in our profession.