I recently made my first ever court appearance. It was not a “You Can’t Handle The Truth” moment, nor was it a “Razzle Dazzle ‘Em” performance. However it was certainly an experience I won’t regret. Whilst I have found that some trainees can’t wait to don their gown and stand before a Sheriff for the first time, others avoid the court seats all together and say with much conviction “It’s just not for me!”. Indeed it may be the case, not everyone sees themselves as the next Harvey Spectre, however I would suggest if there’s an opportunity to make a court appearance whilst you are a trainee, take it, even if it’s just the once. You will certainly learn something and you never know, you might even enjoy it.
Of course, I am still very much a court room novice, learning with every appearance I make. However, I have taken the opportunity to reflect on my experience so far and have compiled a list of top tips that I hope may chase away some of those first appearance nerves.
- Learn from the Masters
If you are a trainee solicitor and a colleague offers you the opportunity to watch them in action, go. Much can be gained from watching a colleague who is a dab hand at court appearances. Before you go to court, try to get as much information as possible on the case and work out where you are in terms of court procedure. Having that background knowledge should help with your understanding of what is happening in court and allow you to get more out of the experience. If you do go to observe a colleague, make sure you are actively listening to proceedings and see if you can pick up on points which impressed or persuaded the judge. If you are a law Student, remember that most courts are open to the public and if you have some spare time, observing court can help you when it comes to your studies.
- Get to know your Learned Friends
If you do get the chance to go up to court with a colleague prior to making your first appearance, the chances are they will know some of the other court solicitors. In the short space of time I have been appearing in Dundee Sheriff Court, I have become familiar with many of the regular court solicitors. It is a good idea to make the effort to get to know them, as you never know when you might be in need of a few words of wisdom from one of your learned friends. I have found other solicitors in the court room to be very welcoming and happy to lend a helping hand. It can be useful to have a brief chat with the solicitor for the other side before your case calls. Again, if you have established a positive professional relationship with that other solicitor, this can make such discussions more comfortable.
- Be Prepared
Although the time you need to prepare for a court appearance may vary significantly depending on the type of court work you are doing, try your best to get in some preparation time, especially for those first few appearances. Think about what you are asking the judge to do, what is your fall-back position if this is refused, what might the judge ask you? What rule allows the judge to do what you are asking? What law supports your position? Think about the worst case scenario and what you would do if it were to occur. The chances are that your first appearance will be relatively straight forward, but court can be unpredictable and you will feel more relaxed if you have done your research and feel prepared.
- Keep Calm and Go Back to Court
If you do end up doing a court seat during your traineeship, you will likely make a number of appearances and at least one of them won’t go quite as planned. Whilst it is an unpleasant experience to have a ‘bad day’ in court, I am told it is something all court solicitors go through, especially during the earlier stages of their career. So if it does happen, don’t let the fear fester, get that gown back on and head back to court. By all means reflect on your mistakes, learn from them, but try not to let them knock your confidence.
So, even if you think that court holds no appeal for you, face your fears, grab the opportunity and step into the unknown. You never know, just like a court appeal, your views are always subject to change. Good luck!
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