As a trial date approaches, a litigation paralegal performs many invaluable tasks. While assisting the lawyer, a litigation paralegal calendars dates, organizes briefs, prepares witnesses, and contacts experts. But his or her duties do not stop at the courthouse door. Once a trial begins, a paralegal may be called on to assist attorneys from the first row or at counsel’s table, and use of proper courtroom etiquette contributes to a judge or jury’s final decision. Here are our four courtroom etiquette rules for paralegals.
Courtrooms are not clones. For example, a paralegal may have participated in numerous trials involving construction law, but a new judge in a new jurisdiction is a new situation, and it pays to know in advance the court’s expectations of all trial participants.
According to the American Bar Association’s Litigation News, an excellent source of information about a particular courtroom’s culture is the judge’s clerk. Establishing a connection with the clerk may provide clues to a judge’s idiosyncrasies or personal preferences. Older judges may look negatively at women in pants suits; others may be easily irritated by unnecessary movement in the courtroom. One paralegal told us that she always avoids entering or exiting the courtroom during proceedings. “Sometimes it’s necessary,” she said. “If that is the case, be as unobtrusive as possible.”
Just as sports teams wear uniforms on the playing field, so do litigation teams in the courtroom, and that includes the paralegal. In her blog “The Paralegal Society,” Jamie Collins writes, “When you wish to convey the image of a consummate professional, you must tip the scales to the conservative side on the fashion pendulum. While this is not always fun, it is necessary. The goal is to portray the look of a professional and dignified member of a professional team.” For male and female paralegals, that means suits of black, gray, navy, or dark brown. Accessories such as jewelry or neckties should be unobtrusive.
While assisting at trial, a litigation paralegal is watching and listening to everything that goes on in the courtroom. Jurors are, too, so it is important that the paralegal not respond in any way that might be negatively perceived. The State Bar of Texas Paralegal Division reminds paralegals to keep their emotions in check at trial. One paralegal we spoke to put it more directly: “Avoid reacting to testimony or rulings. You may think someone just lied, but remain neutral. The jury is often looking at the counsel table and may catch that smirk.”
Finally, the best teammate is one who understands his role before the game begins. A paralegal may be asked to perform many different tasks in court, from setting up the attorney’s table to polling the jury, so it is important to know in advance what the supported attorney expects. Paralegal Lisa Sprinkle writes, “Each paralegal/attorney team will develop its own approach to trial. The jury can be affected, negatively or positively, by the way in which an attorney and paralegal work together during a trial. A lot of decisions made by juries are based on their perceptions of the paralegal, the attorney, the evidence, the client and/or the type of case they are hearing.”
CompuScripts is well versed in trial etiquette. Our court reporters have a wealth of courtroom experience. At one end of the spectrum, we sit in the courtroom at one counsel’s table acting as a private note taker. In those situations, the transcript we produce is not the official record but is a great aid for the litigation team at the close of each day’s testimony. Sometimes the realtime draft transcript is streamed to a war room offsite.
On the other end of that spectrum, the Court permits counsel to hire a realtime court reporter for a trial being heard in his courtroom. Our freelance court reporter fulfills the duties of an official judicial reporter and produces the official record of the trial.
As you prepare your case, let CompuScripts be a part of your litigation strategy from the conference room to the courtroom. To request our services, call us at 888.988.0086 or visit our scheduling page.