In a recent interview, Federal District Court Judge James Holderman provides a good perspective on dealing with difficult judges in trial. Judge Holderman’s experience includes many years of trial work as a private attorney prior to his appointment as a Federal Judge.

Let me start by saying the truly difficult judge has been a rare experience in my practice. Most judges at the jury trial and appellate levels where I practice are dedicated to reaching a fair and just decision. However, as Judge Holderman notes:

Judges are people and subject to the same prejudices, pressures, human problems, flaws, and frailties, which we all have.

Even the best judge can have a bad day that impacts his ability. Judge Holderman describes the specific types of difficult judges he encountered while a trial attorney. His list of types is spot-on. The article is a good read for lawyers representing clients in personal injury and damage cases who want to improve their trial practice.

The interview provides some common sense advice to attorneys. At least, I believe the advice to be common sense.  Unfortunately, I have seen too many attorneys act differently. Here is the advice with my commentary:

  1. Be Prepared. Case preparation is essential. Clients deserve your best effort as a professional. An attorney who prepares his cases well is ready to handle the curve balls that come with trials. Maybe its laziness, but too many lawyers fail to prepare.
  2. Know the Rules. When I think of legal rules, I always remember a specific evidence class at law school many years ago. The professor was quizzing a student on an evidence issue. The student had not read the materials and had no idea which rule applied. "But, it’s just fair" the student argued to support his position. Fairness is important but you better know the rules if you are a lawyer who wishes to be successful. This requires a dedication to study.
  3. Be Professional. In Huntsville where my office is located, and surrounding areas of North Alabama, we have been fortunate to have very good bar associations and good legal communities. That’s not to say we are perfect — there is always a bad apple or two. When faced with the specific types of difficult judges listed in the interview, a professional reaction always serves your clients and courts best. Stay composed and stay civil.

Whether lack of desire or lack of experience, too many attorneys fail to deal properly with difficult judges. This is a necessary skill for the successful trial lawyer.