Despite what you see on TV and in the movies, lawyers don’t just enter the courtroom and hop right into litigating. There is a lot of waiting in court. Waiting for the court officers to open up the courtroom, waiting for the judge to take the bench, waiting for your adversary to show up, waiting for your client to show up, waiting for your case to be called, waiting for the legal argument ahead of yours to finish, waiting for a witness or a juror – the waiting game is played on a regular basis. Sometimes you sit for hours. As a law student, you are not aware of how much down time you spend in court. But as a practicing lawyer who regularly plays the waiting game, you occasionally want to pull your hair out!
Instead of wasting time stewing about the wait, you can use your time lucratively. Many attorneys now bring to court a tablet or a laptop, so that they can work on an affirmation in support of a motion, or edit a memorandum of law. If you are in private practice, the time you spend working on these other matters is billable time. Even if I don’t have
my laptop, I always have a spare legal pad so that, if there’s a wait, I can brainstorm on other cases, or draft letters and emails to clients or other counsel.
Another way to use your time lucratively is to watch the judge handle matters other than yours and evaluate whether to alter your planned approach to the issues you are litigating before this judge. If the judge is hearing an argument on a motion, listen to the questions the judge asks, and see if you can anticipate issues that he or she might ask about when it’s your turn. Mentally role-play the most effective way to approach the issues, given what you are seeing.
Whatever you do while waiting in court, be patient! Bad things can happen to lawyers who are intolerant and critical, noticeably squirming or making faces during another party’s hearing. Don’t think your faces, gestures, or loud clicking noises are not being seen and heard. Don’t underestimate the damage you can do to your own case, before it’s even called! Doing something constructive while waiting will ensure that you don’t give off bad signals that the court officers or judge resent, and that may infect the proceedings when you finally are called.