July 30, 2019

What a Great Lawyer Knows

Criminal defense attorney working on a case in Oakland County, MI

A Good Lawyer Knows the Law…a Great Lawyer Knows the Judge!

There is an old saying that says a good lawyer knows the law, a great lawyer knows the judge. Some people take this for its apparent unseemly meaning. Some people think it means that the best lawyer is one that knows the judge and that this implies somehow a dishonest or corrupt connection between the lawyer and the judge. That’s an old wives’ tale. The statement, however, is absolutely true. Allow me to explain.

Courts of law all over our country are run by human beings. And as we know, all human beings have their preferences, their idiosyncrasies, and their peccadilloes. The old notion that justice is blind unfortunately is not true. All people interpret things differently, and all people, whether they will admit it or not, have biases and even prejudices. Judges are no exception to the rule. In my opinion, the best results that I’ve seen over my career in courtrooms were obtained by attorneys who understood where they were, who the players were, and how best to present their case in that courtroom. Make no mistake about it: the exact same case in front of two different judges should absolutely be presented in two different ways. It’s important to know whether the judge is a patient person, or whether he is always in a hurry to get to the heart of the case. It’s valuable to know whether this judge believes in the principle of rehabilitation or he believes only in the concept of punishment. It’s very valuable to know whether the judge has a very close relationship with his prosecutor. The list is endless!

The best lawyer absolutely goes to the trouble of knowing who the judge assigned to the case is, what that judge’s background is, and what that judge’s preferences are. This is all-important in the process of presenting one’s client in the best possible light. Some lawyers practice exclusively in one jurisdiction. As such, they have been in front of that judge enough times to know what that judge’s preferences are. The best lawyers, I believe, are the ones who are constantly in courthouses, in front of different judges, who take the time to watch a judge if that judge is unfamiliar to them. While I have practiced all over the state of Michigan, there are obviously judges in front of whom I appear frequently and know exactly how best to present a case for them. I’ve also appeared in front of judges with whom I’ve not had endless experiences. On many occasions, I have actually made a dry run to that courthouse in advance of my client’s court date. Courtrooms are public places and it is time well invested for me to take a few hours to just watch how things go in a certain courtroom before I have to appear there for my client.

In addition, I have associations all over the state with other attorneys and frequently contact them in advance of my court appearances to inquire whether their judges permit arraignments by mail, or allow jury selection to be conducted by the attorneys themselves or whether a particular judge served in the military or perhaps had a loved one who was the victim of a crime. All of these subtle issues permit me to present my clients in the best possible light for that judge as well as avoid presenting my client in a way that will offend or turn a judge against my client.

Only a fool would think that if the law or the facts happen to be on your side, all you have to do is scream it from the mountaintop and all judges will come to the same conclusion. The best lawyer “knows” the judge and how therefore to convince that judge to grant the best possible result.