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Practical Tip: Knowing Your Courtroom

A trial consists of a compilation of complex processes of courtroom procedures and rituals, which can often change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and can seem like a strange and mysterious world if you don’t know what those procedures and rituals are.

Since ritual and tradition play a large part in the trial process it is integral that as paralegals we make it our business to understand what those procedures are. I think one of the most important things we can do as Paralegals, once our case has reached the Courtroom, is to know the layout of the land. What I mean by this, is “Knowing your Courtroom” - being aware of your surroundings and its inhabitants.

Simply put: “Don’t Be a Stranger in a Strange Land.”

Jonathon Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, was correct when he said:

“… A stranger in a strange land, he is no one: men know him not - and to know not is to care not for.”

Think about it, do you really want to be in a venue where no one knows or cares about you? I think not. If you are on trial, you’ve got enough to worry about, right? So let’s start with some rules.

The Rules of the Game

All Courtroom procedures are governed by a series of rules. The rule of law which governs our justice system is derived from a number of sources. It remains fundamental however, that as Paralegals, we realize that while procedural rules have their part to play in regulating the trial process, there are also practical rules, which are equally important.

RULE 1

Know your Courtroom Staff. By the time your case reaches the Court, you will know who your Judge is. The Courtroom Staff will consist of a number of people. Do your best to get to know each and every one of them because you never know when you will have to call of them for assistance. Being aware of what each staff member’s Courtroom function is, will save you time and stress.

Know your Courtroom’s Clerk

The Clerk of Court is responsible for a wide range of duties, including the supervision of the internal administrative function of the Court itself as well as the planning and administrative direction.

Know Your Courtroom’s Administrator

A Court’s Administrator functions under direction of the Court to help develop and implement administrative policies and services. The Court’s Administrator’s office ensures court operations and judicial administrative needs are identified, and manages the daily operations of the court, under the direction of the presiding Judge.

Know Your Courtroom’s Security

The Marshal or Bailiff of the court is responsible for building security, Courtroom security and personal security for all persons working for and doing business in the Court.

Know Your Courtroom’s Legal Staff

Legal Staff within the Courts may include Primary Legal Counsel, Staff Attorneys, Research Attorneys and Law Clerks. They examine briefs, case records and legal authorities. They also perform legal research, analysis and writing under general supervision.

Know your Judges' Support Staff

Judges’ Support Staff may include Judicial Executive Assistants, Judicial Administrative Assistants and Secretaries. They may type and edit opinions, agendas, and correspondence; create and maintain administrative files; coordinate and arrange meetings; coordinate travel arrangements; and answer or direct telephone inquiries, mail and visitors to appropriate staff.

Know Your Courtroom’s Court Reporter

A Court Reporter records judicial proceedings verbatim; reads back requested portions of records or notes; transcribes stenographic notes and files by computer aided transcription to a finished transcript in official format; keeps a detailed log, marks, receipts, secures, and files all exhibits with the Clerk's Office.

Know Your Courtroom’s Jury Supervisor

A Jury Supervisor in the trial court reviews the lists for potential jurors and determines whether an individual is qualified to serve as a Juror; determines the number of Jurors to be summoned; issues summonses; and handles requests for postponement, exemption or disqualification. The Jury Supervisor also meets with summoned Jurors to explain procedures and other aspects of jury service and to answer questions; selects jury panels and directs them where to go; and dismisses Jurors from the jury assembly room at end of the day or of the Juror’s service.

Remember: All of these individuals don’t have to be your best friend but you should have a working professional connection with them, it’s worth it. Trust me.

RULE 2

Know your Courthouse; literally. Know the layout of your Courthouse. If you are like me, when you are at a trial you only want to be focused on the Attorney’s needs, on your Client, on the Jury and the trial exhibits. Placing yourself in a comfort zone is integral to being able to function effectively. To reach this comfort level, I suggest that you know your Courthouse. For Example:

  • Where are the copying/fax machines?
  • Where is the vending machine or cafeteria?
  • Where are the media outlets?
  • Where is the storage for media equipment and materials?
  • What type of computer system does the court use?
  • Where are the small conference rooms for witness conferences?
  • Where are the restrooms?
    • To gather all of this information, be sure to go to the Courthouse ahead of time.

RULE 3

Be Nice. Doing something nice for someone always brings a pleasant response. You will feel good about yourself, plus you will gain the respect of others. Remember the jury is watching you, so be your “Best Self.”

Finally, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “There is no knowledge that is not power.” So be knowledgeable about your Courtroom. I want you all to be empowered.

 

Ms. Sherry Kubanyi received her B.A. in Political Science and has worked as a paralegal for plaintiffs and defense firms throughout the State of Georgia for over 15 years.