Bench Bar Courtroom Chat: Seamless Transitions

By Gwen Abler

Courtroom Chats are a talk led by various judges once a month; we get their inside look at a courtroom. We met last week in a small and cozy setting (with food), and Judges Morris Hoffman and David Goldberg talked about transitioning dockets, and how attorneys can make that transition easier.

Colorado courts are different from most states in that judges switch dockets every couple of years, transitioning from criminal cases to civil cases to divorce to domestic. They call it a “breath of fresh air” and it helps keep their mind sharp when it comes to increasing their knowledge pool. Yet it can be difficult for judges to relearn a new area of law. Here’s what attorneys can do to make it easier for the judges, their clients, and themselves.

Judges appreciate bench briefs and defining the case. Often we get too bogged down in the details of the case, ignoring the big picture and what the clients (and attorney) are trying to achieve. If you need a status conference, it is okay to ask! If you are having difficulty uncovering the facts of the case, it is okay to explain that to the judge! If you would like performance reviews after the trial is over, it is okay to ask! Long story short, judges are likely to be accommodating towards you if make any issues known and reach out (but don’t expect that trial date to be moved!)

The biggest piece of advice was to STAY ORGANIZED! Know the correct law, don’t recite your direct or cross off of your phone, keep your trial documents organized, label your exhibits. These small things go a long way in the eyes of your judges! If you’re not in court that often (civil attorneys, I’m looking at you), watch some cases before you head to court. Know your judge, know if they like the litany of explaining Rules of Evidence line by line or if they will let your evidence in easily. Your reputation precedes you in the courtroom – judges talk – and these small things will make your day in court easier for you and your judge.

Although some of these things may seem like common sense, judges see hundreds of cases, and many lawyers who DO read off of their phones, do not label their exhibits, and leave their desk a mess. Make yourself stand out (in a positive way) and they will be more accommodating for you as well! And remember, every client deserves their day in court. Make that day count by being prepared, professional, polite, and organized. Your client AND your judge will thank you.

The DBA’s Bench Bar Courtroom Chats is an ongoing series meeting the second Thursday of each month. These “Chats” are an opportunity for attorneys to meet and talk with a different Denver judge each month, in an informal environment about various topics of interest, while also networking with other Denver attorneys.  Join us for our next one on Nov.9.