Whether you called her Grandma,
Nana, Bubbe or Mee-Maa, the lessons they
provided were universal. As trial lawyers,
those simple lessons can assist our courtroom presentations and ultimately lead to
greater success with judges and jurors.
Mind Your Manners
It seems simple enough, but sometimes
the heat of battle can make even the most
generally polite attorneys forget the little
things. We were taught when we were
little to say “please” and “thank you” and
address people by their names. Grandma
called it minding our manners and reminded us that we were always being observed.
When trying a case before a judge or
jury, the importance of minding our manners cannot be overstated. I have talked
to numerous ex-jurors and participated in
many mock juror exercises and continue
to be intrigued by the many references
to the manners of the attorneys and how
that shaped their views about their clients
and, ultimately, their cases.
“I gave the defense case a stronger ear
than I thought I would originally because
I said if they hired someone that nice and
respectful they must be OK.” “I could not
believe how rude that attorney was; it re-
ally made it difficult to listen to what they
were saying.” “It meant a lot when the
attorney said ‘good morning’ to us every
day before asking the witness questions; it
We are the speaking agents for our cli-
ents and their legal positions and should
never forget that we are always being
observed and, candidly, judged. Minding
our manners in the courtroom can assist
in reducing the risk of having our position
judged in a negative way simply because
of our behavior.
Look/Act Like You Belong
Grandma wanted us to be presentable and
to look and act like we belonged in our
spaces (and not embarrass the family!). In
court, our full presentation not only involves the facts and law, but our presence.
Don’t distract the fact-finders by
looking sloppy or unkempt. Don’t present
poorly for your client by making it appear
that you care little for yourself. This is
in no way to suggest that trial attorneys
need to buy expensive suits, skirts, shoes
and handbags (please don’t make those
purchases and say that Craig told you to
do it). Our attention to the details of our
physical appearance aid in the attention
paid to what we have to say.
Pick Up after Yourself
You might be surprised (or maybe not)
by the number of attorneys who leave
papers, notes, devices and more in court
when they leave. Grandma told us to always clean up behind ourselves, not only
because it was the right thing to do but
because it could prevent our “stuff” from
falling into the wrong hands.
In the heat of trial, when entering and
exiting the courtroom, I am particularly
careful to make sure I have everything
that I brought with me. First, I don’t want
jurors to view me as absent-minded or
uncaring about those who have to clean
up my “mess.” Second, without knowing
what I left behind, I could unknowingly
provide someone with important infor-
mation, plans or more.
One of my former law partners—an
amazingly talented trial attorney—used to
say, “You know we get paid to be paranoid—I’m starting to get pretty good at it.”
While the humor in that statement is undeniable, the truth of the sentiment should
not be ignored. Of course we should trust
the ethical integrity of any and everyone
we interact with and should assume the
best in everyone. At the same time, we
should never intentionally or lazily place
ourselves in a position where we expose
ourselves. Pick up after yourself.
Don’t Be a Jerk
Grandma told us that people really, really,
really don’t like jerks. Jurors are people.
Don’t be a jerk. They won’t like you.
If we take the time to remember the
practical wisdom we received when we
were bright-eyed, open to learning and
willing to heed the words of those who
had our best interest in mind, we can
apply some of those basic lessons to how
we approach our courtroom behavior. We
should do all that we can to make ourselves as believable as possible. Grandma
would be proud. ■
CRAIG A. THOMPSON, ESQ.
( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a
partner with Venable LLP and a
trial lawyer with 20 years of
experience trying civil cases in
state and federal courts
throughout the country. He is a
member of the board of directors of the
International Association of Defense Counsel and
lectures across the country on topics related to civil
litigation. Connect with him on Twitter at www.
twitter.com/getcraig and LinkedIn at www.linkedin.
“Grandma Says ...”: An Old-School
Approach to Courtroom Decorum
WHEN WE WERE YOUNG many of us were influenced by a number
of forces. For large numbers of us, our grandparents also influenced
us and provided sage and timely life lessons. In many cases, it was our
grandmothers who laid down the rules and identified the social norms that
were appropriate in the house but would lead to success in the world.