Sep 30, 2017
Thoughts on Appearances
Sep 30, 2017
By The Hon. Mark A. Talamantes
How’s it going?
Hey howdy hi!
Howdy Howdy (my favorite),
Why hello there,
Look what the cat dragged in,
And of course, when in court: Good morning your honor, Mario Sentence Seller from the law firm of Rush, Rush & Delay here on behalf of petitioner Sue Lots.
As a general rule of civility, it’s important to be polite and to say “hello” properly, even in court. Paul Gutierrez, veteran Marin County trial lawyer, offered me invaluable advice when I first opened my practice back in 1999: be mindful of the importance of making a good first impression in court. Your appearance is very important. First impressions matter.
In my courtroom, the first thing I will ask is for “appearances please”. I write down the name of every lawyer appearing before me on my legal pad as you state your appearance. I write your name down even if I know who you are—just in case—because frankly it is at times difficult to keep track of all the names and faces of litigants appearing before the court on any given calendar. If you look down and mumble through your name while stating your appearance, I will mumble through writing your name down on my legal pad, which will likely throw things off during argument if you are later called upon.
The purpose of stating your appearance is threefold: (1) to introduce yourself to the judge; (2) to represent your client before the court; and (3) to capture the judge’s attention, which may be a challenge in a busy courtroom. While I cannot speak for my fellow robe-wearers, I can tell you that as a general rule, we want to greet you properly in the courtroom. So please, introduce yourself by speaking slowly and clearly. If your name is unique, or if it has more vowels than mine, help me to pronounce your name correctly because I want to pronounce your name correctly. I really do.
Remember to look directly at the judge when addressing the court. Don't look down at the floor. Stand or sit up straight and pay careful attention when the judge is looking at you. Please, listen to everything that's going on. Don't drum your fingers, play with your hair, look around the room or do anything that makes you appear bored, nervous or uninterested because that can be so distracting. Don’t chew gum. Showing that you are taking your appearance seriously is very important.
Consider that civil court judges work hard preparing for each case by reading the moving and opposing papers, and accompanying declarations. Your writing not only tells us about your case, but also provides insight into your analysis and thought process. It may also reveal a bit of your personality if we’re lucky. By reading your papers, the judge begins to understand how you think. Your appearance connects the lawyer standing at counsel table to the pleadings. I look forward to the moment when I get to meet the lawyer behind the papers.
On the criminal side, making your appearance is equally important. Some criminal courts in California adopt the “hit-move, hit-move” approach to calendar management. Like in a boxing ring, this approach involves a choreographed two-step. First, “hit” the case by calling it. Second, “move” on quickly to the next case; hit the case—move to the next; hit-move, hit-move, hit-move. In criminal court, you must maximize the few minutes you have before the court by capturing the judge’s attention and properly introducing yourself on behalf of your client. Again, this first impression is important.
I appreciate that what comes after you state your appearance is what really actually matters. During the hearing you should listen carefully, ask for permission to speak, talk directly to the court and not the other side. Please do not argue or interrupt your opposing counsel, and please do control your emotions. Address the court properly, and speak loudly and clearly, remembering that only one person can speak at a time. If you prevail, take all the credit and pat yourself on the back. If you don’t prevail, feel free to blame the judge. However, please don’t take things too personally.
Finally, remember you can never say “please” or “thank you” too much. And it can’t hurt for lawyers to be nice to one other.
So the next time I see you in court, be sure to say “hello”. Then let’s work together with your opposing counsel to effectively resolve your client’s case.
Judge Mark A. Talamantes was appointed to the bench in 2012. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech University and his law degree from Hastings College of Law.