I’ve been practicing in family courts for over 45 years and am still surprised by the self-reps, and lawyers, who make mistakes that hurt their case. They’re in court to persuade the judge. But too often they annoy the very person they want to influence without even realizing it.
When you’re a court you want to emphasize things that please judges, and avoid those that don’t.
Here are seven things that annoy judges that every self-rep should try to avoid.
#1: Putting yourself into the argument.
Judges don’t like it when you start a statement or proposition with “I think” or “I believe”. The issue isn’t what you think or believe – the issue is what judge accepts as meaningful. You don’t make a good point stronger, or a bad point good, by saying you think or believe that it’s true.
#2: Being casual.
Judges don’t like it when you add something by saying “by the way”. This suggests that you’re raising a point you only thought of at the last minute and are tossing it in, just in case it might have some significance. You want to show the judge that every point you make is is important. Something you considered relevant to the matter. Not just something just thrown in at the last moment.
#3: Asking the judge if she has read the material.
This is insulting. If the judge hasn’t read the material, you’re putting her into an awkward spot. If she has, you’re signalling that you’re not sure if she’s been conscientious. Instead, when you’re making your points, say where your material sets out the facts supporting your argument. This allows the judge to tell you, if she wishes, that she’s familiar with the material. And it allows the judge who isn’t, to find the facts that support you without saying that she hadn’t read the file.
#4: Using a stream of consciousness style.
Judges don’t like it when you go on and on telling them a “he said/she said” litany of facts, or jumping from one topic to another on the spur of the moment. Ultimately that’s harmful to the story you want to tell. You’ve set out your key points in your written material. So summarizing it in a clear and concise fashion helps. Rambling on doesn’t.
#5: The judge isn’t interested in everything.
Too many people feel that the opportunity to speak to the judge is their chance to tell the judge everything. They feel that the judge has to get the “whole story” to understand their point. The danger, of course, is that the client ends up flooding the judge with facts. most of which aren’t going to be relevant to the decision to be made. And too many facts hide the important ones, or tell the judge that not even you know what’s important and what isn’t. The judge isn’t interested in everything that happened. He’s interested in what’s relevant to the order you want. There isn’t time for everything else.
#6: Being nasty hurts your case.
It’s safe to say that most people in court don’t like the other party very much. Judges know this. But going on about how nasty and mean the other side is, and throwing mud to besmirch them, hurts your case. Focus on what the judge needs to know give you the order you want. Showing how nasty the other person is usually isn’t relevant. And it certainly isn’t liked by judges.
#7: It’s not about you.
Judges don’t like a party who talks about “me, me, me”. Don’t focus on how wonderful you are, or whine about how your feelings are hurt. Deal with the issues and facts the judge needs to make a decision. If it’s an access issue, focus on the child and the child’s interests. If it’s a support issue, talk about how failing to disclose income, or not adjusting the payments when appropriate, is forcing the court to deal with a matter that could have been solved if the other side had been reasonable.
Conclusion: You don’t persuade a person by irritating them.
Keep in mind why you’re in court – it’s to persuade a judge to do something you want him or her to do. Helping the judge get the information they need to do the job is helping yourself. Presenting your case by avoiding things judges don’t like is an effective way to have your points considered in a favourable light.