You passed the Bar and are admitted to practice law in California! Regardless of whether you are a solo practitioner or at a firm, you will likely appear at a court hearing in the beginning of your career.
Many new attorneys experience anticipatory anxiety at the thought of a court appearance. It is not unusual when you think about an upcoming hearing or trial for your thoughts to scatter in a million directions. Do I stand when the judge enters the courtroom? Where do I sit? What will the judge ask me? How will I respond if I do not know the answer, either legally or factually? What if when my client testifies, he or she does not answer as expected? Your questions, depending on the type and length of hearing, can go on and on. Rest assured what you are feeling is normal, but can take a toll on you both emotionally and physically.
As a new attorney, a key to prevent or manage your anticipatory anxiety is to prepare yourself every time you step into the courtroom.
To do this, first go to the courthouse ahead of time — maybe even attend a hearing a few days before yours to become familiar with the court’s specific procedures. You want to be comfortable being in court before you ever appear. Familiarize yourself with parking, the courthouse layout, your courtroom department’s location, and your judicial officer. Regarding parking, determine whether unlimited parking is available, whether there is a time limit if you park in certain spots, or if you need to bring money for paid parking. After you park, take a stroll in the courthouse to acquaint yourself with its layout. In particular, it is important to know the locations of the clerk’s office if you need to file anything, the bathrooms, and an area you can meet privately with your client prior or after your hearing. Most courthouses have a seated area or cafeteria, where you can coordinate to meet your client. After you know the layout of the courthouse, locate your department. Sit in the department where you will appear. Observe the process for checking-in for your hearing. Take a look where the attorneys sit to determine which side of the podium where you will sit. Look at where the clients are sitting in relation to their attorneys. Pay attention to the how the judge manages his or her calendar. Take a look at the judge. Visualize yourself sitting calmly in your seat on the day of the hearing in front of that judge. By going to the courthouse ahead of time, you will be confident on the day of your hearing that you know where to park, how to get to your department, and how your judge manages his or her calendar.
Now that you familiarized yourself with the courthouse, the second thing to do is visualize the actual hearing or trial. Prepare your reactions to every large-scale topic you know will be brought up. Prepare each topic to where anything that is brought up does not provoke a frantic response. It is alright to take a moment before answering. Keep in mind how you appear to others before you respond. Remember that being perceived as scared or intimidated will not help your credibility or your client’s case, so be thoughtful and confident in your position at court. As you visualize, remember that you will be judged by your body language and how you present yourself outwardly. Present yourself as someone who respects the court.
The night before the hearing lay your suit or similar attire out, along with your briefcase. In your briefcase, be sure to include two notepads (one for you and one for your client, if appearing), two pens, and business cards to give to the bailiff and court reporter at the day of the hearing.
If you have a multiple day trial, take care of yourself. If you do not have time to work out, at least take a 30-minute walk to clear your head. Get a massage sometime after day two. Eat regular meals and drink plenty of water. As staying hydrated and not having dry mouth is very important during long trials, some attorneys prefer Gatorade or Pedialyte. Do not consume any excessive alcohol at night because judges and juries can tell when someone appears to be extra slow in the mornings. You do not want anyone thinking you are hungover.
Lastly, on the day of court, arrive early. Be confident. Know that you have done everything to prepare. You have the competence to handle whatever issues arise during the hearing or trial!