You’ve been admitted to the practice of law. Now what? All of us were in your shoes at one time. We hope the information provided here will be helpful as you navigate the first few years of practice.
The Baton Rouge Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section (YLS) Council is elected on an annual basis. Our job is to serve the young lawyers of Baton Rouge by providing meaningful support, CLE and networking opportunities. Don’t hesitate to reach out if we can be of assistance, and please accept our invitation to get engaged! We promise you won’t regret it.
TOP TEN DOS AND DON’TS (STATE COURT)
1) Play nice. It’s a small playground. Work hard to have a good reputation from the start. Everyone you deal with will remember their interactions with you. Be the attorney that everyone wants to have cases with, not the attorney that is known for being difficult.
2) Copy that. Most civil judges still require hard copies of motions and memos. Assume that they do unless you have been told otherwise by that office. Memos in opposition are not sent to the judges’ offices by the Clerk’s Office, so you need to make sure the judge gets a copy, either by e-mail or hard copy.
3) Know the facts before you fax. Most Judges’ offices will allow attorneys to send letters, copies of pleadings and memos by fax. However, remember that the Uniform District Court Rules require that faxes not exceed 15 pages unless you have received permission from that office.
4) Know the rules to the game you’re about to play. And speaking of the Uniform District Court Rules, it is very important to know these along with local rules that apply to a particular court. You can find those rules here: https://www.lasc.org/rules/DistrictCourt.asp
5) Mind your manners. Refer to Rule No. 1! When calling a judge’s office, you will likely speak to either his or her judicial assistant or law clerk. They will tell the judge if their experience with you was negative. When calling a judge’s office, it is also important to have the docket number of the case ready. They will not remember your case by its name.
6) Proofread! Proofread! Proofread! Check your pleadings and memos for typographical and grammatical errors. Don’t rely on someone else or on spellcheck to do this if you are signing the pleading.
7) Things happen! Keep the court informed. If you are due to be in court and are running late or also due in another section, either call or stop in the judge’s office to let them know. If you aren’t in court at the designated time and you have not indicated that you will be late, it will be assumed that you are not going to show up.
8) Quality over quantity. Although the issue that you are writing about may be complicated, it is better to keep the length of memos shorter rather than longer. Also, if you are citing a case that is very important to your argument, attach a copy of it to make sure the judge sees it.
9) Sit down and get acquainted. Spend time in all courts at some point so you will know a little about each of them. This includes the Criminal, Civil, Family, City, Juvenile and Federal Courts.
10) Keep the judge’s office informed. If your trial date or hearing date with a judge settles or the hearing needs to be taken off the docket, send a letter directly to the judge’s office informing them. A judgment of dismissal is not notice to the judge’s office to remove a matter from the docket. You don’t want to be the attorney that finds out the judge is waiting in court for a trial to start because he or she was not notified that it had settled.
A BIG thank you to Blair Lockwood for her help with this list!
TOP TEN TIPS FOR PRACTICING IN FEDERAL COURT
1) Know your judge. Always check the judge’s webpage for his or her rules. Ask other lawyers about how they like to do things. Before you file a motion, read the judge’s old opinions on that type of motion and in that area of law.
2) Judges are people too. Put yourself in their shoes. Ask, “How would I deal with this if I were a judge?” or “What would I want to know when deciding this issue?”
3) The Judge’s staff is like their family. Many have been with them since before they were judges. Never be disrespectful to the staff.
4) Never forget the equities, common sense, gut-justice, or big-picture position. Judges generally want to do the right thing—if it’s allowed under the law.
5) Federal court is rule-based. You must know your federal and local rules and keep up with amendments. They usually tell you what to do with motions, settlements, courtroom decorum, etc.
6) Federal court is deadline driven. Don’t expect unreasonable or last-minute extensions. Trials are set years in advance, so don’t expect to get a continuance of a trial date.
7) Keep motion practice simple and focused. Avoid personal attacks, legalese, bombast, bad cut and paste jobs, and unnecessary replies and sur-replies. Cite facts and law correctly. Provide pinpoint cites to everything.
8) Don’t hesitate to contact opposing counsel to attempt to resolve an issue. You can save money (yours or your clients) and time (yours and the court’s) by avoiding a needless motion.
9) Keep the Court informed when appropriate. Notify the Court promptly if your case settles. Do the same if you resolve a motion or realize you should withdraw it.
10) Be prepared for every conference, hearing, or trial. Know your case completely. Be able to discuss the facts and applicable law. If you don’t fully prepare, you will waste the judge’s time—and your own.
For more guidance, see:
- David Borghardt & Jamie Tullier, Law Clerk Corner: Part 1, THE BATON ROUGE LAWYER, Jan.–Feb. 2020 ;
- David Borghardt & Jamie Tullier, Law Clerk Corner: Part 2, THE BATON ROUGE LAWYER, Mar.–Apr. 2020 ;
- David Borghardt & Jamie Tullier, Law Clerk Corner: Part 3, THE BATON ROUGE LAWYER, May–June. 2020 ;
- David Borghardt & Jamie Tullier, Law Clerk Corner: Part 4, THE BATON ROUGE LAWYER, July–Aug. 2020
A BIG thank you to Law Clerks from the Middle District for their help with this list!
Louisiana State Courts: COVID-19 Virtual Hearing Checklist
1) Check the court’s website for COVID-19-related rules and protocols.
2) Check with the judge’s chambers to confirm the hearing will be held virtually.
3) Make sure the court has your correct email address to send the virtual hearing invitation.
4) Ensure that all notice and service of process has been issued to all parties and witnesses prior to the hearing or trial.
5) Ensure all witnesses have the Zoom link or other virtual hearing invitation.
6) Continue to comply with the local rules. For example, do not forget to provide the civil district court judge with a copy of the motion, opposition, or reply in accordance with Rule 9.9 of the Louisiana Rules for Civil Proceedings in District Court. If you forget to furnish a copy to the judge, you may forfeit oral argument. The various court rules are available on the Louisiana Supreme Court’s website at: https://www.lasc.org/Court_Rules.
7) Drop off copies of motions, oppositions, replies, and exhibits to the judge’s chambers in a socially distant manner. For example, place your motion in the judge’s “drop box,” and call the judge’s chambers to notify them of the delivery.
8) If you will be presenting testimony, it is your responsibility to ensure your witnesses have a good internet connection and know how to operate the controls.
9) Dress as if you were attending an in-person hearing. Do not forget to wear your blazer or suit jacket.
10) Avoid joining virtual hearings by cell phone, if possible, as visibility and audio quality is diminished.
11) Avoid distracting backgrounds.
12) Ensure proper lighting is available for your video hearing. Avoid sitting directly in front of a window with no window shades or blinds.
13) Eliminate background noise that may inhibit the court reporter and judge from clearly hearing you.
14) Ensure your first and last name is clearly identified in your video window. Make sure your device is named “John Doe,” rather than “John’s iPad.”
15) Log into the virtual session a few minutes before it is scheduled to begin.
16) Do not record the hearing. Most recordings are prohibited by the courts.
17) Do not assume you can convert a virtual hearing to an in-person hearing by choice. Make this request to the judge prior to the hearing date. If you believe your case will rise and fall on the issue of credibility, make a request to the judge for an in-person hearing.
18) If multiple attorneys are joining from the same firm or for the same client, each should attend the virtual hearing in separate rooms to prevent unwanted audio feedback and confusion.
19) Do not interrupt or speak over others. Raise your hand if you wish to speak while someone else is talking. The Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct continue to apply.
20) If the judge directs you to mute your microphone, follow those instructions.
21) If presenting evidence virtually, troubleshoot the presentation of evidence before the hearing. Ensure that the judge will be able to clearly view the evidence you are presenting and that the sizing of images will not be reduced. Consider reaching out the courthouse’s IT department and/or judge’s chambers to inquire into the protocol for presenting evidence virtually. For example, ask whether you will be able to “share your screen” during the hearing.
22) All documentary evidence and physical evidence expected to be utilized at the hearing or trial should be delivered to and received by the court prior to hearing, and appropriately marked and numbered. For example, the 19th JDC requires all documentary and physical evidence be provided 7 days before the hearing or trial.
23) After the virtual hearing, send the original copies of contracts, testaments, etc. to the judge’s office, if appropriate. Confirm this procedure with the judge’s chambers and inquire into the judge’s preference for delivery.
TOP TEN THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT THE 19TH JDC’S CIVIL DUTY COURT
1) What is the Civil Duty Court? The Civil Duty Court handles UNCONTESTED civil matters as provided by Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 253.3 and Local Rule 3.2 of the Louisiana Rules of Court for the Nineteenth Judicial District Court.
2) What type of matters are handled by the Civil Duty Court? The majority of the cases that flow through the Civil Duty Court include uncontested Probate matters (Successions, Tutorships and Trusts), Default Judgments, Judicial Commitments, Judgment Debtor Rules, and Garnishments. For a more complete list, see the Civil Duty Court Information page here.
3) How do I know which Judge will review and sign matters that pass through the Civil Duty Court? Aside from matters that are heard in open court, all Duty Court matters are sent directly to the Divisional Judge allotted to the matter for review and signature.
4) What exactly does the Civil Duty Judge even do? During each two-week duty period, each Civil Duty Judge handles open court matters and a few other time-sensitive matters, such as Medical Review Panel extensions. The type of matters that are heard in open court by the Civil Duty Judge includes Judicial Commitments, Judgment Debtor Examinations, and certain Default Judgments.
5) Can I “walk-thru” time sensitive pleadings to the Judge? No, this is no longer possible. Now that the court uses an electronic records system, it is not possible to physically walk a record to the Judge’s office. The Judges all sign electronically. You may request expedited consideration by contacting the Civil Duty Court.
6) How do I check the status of matters handled by the Civil Duty Court? Call the Duty Court Office at (225) 389-4935 and select Option 5 to reach Ms. Rose or Ms. Susan. Be sure to have your docket number before calling to check the status of any matters handled by the Civil Duty Court.
7) I need to confirm a Default Judgment. How do I schedule at date? Only Default Judgment confirmations that are based upon a delictual obligation can be schedule before the Duty Judge in Open Court. See La. C.C.P. art. 1702(B)(2). Call the Duty Court Office one week prior to the hearing day. Please note that there are occasions when the Judge will require a hearing prior to granting a default judgment.
8) Who do I call to schedule a Judgment Debtor examination? Call the Duty Court Office at (225) 389-4935 and select Option 4 to find an available date. If you need to pass a Judgment Debtor Examination, please fax a letter to the Duty Court Office with all relevant case information, including the case number.
9) I received a Reject Notice from the Clerk of Court. Who can I contact to answer questions that I might have about the notice? Call the Duty Court Office at (225) 389-4935 and select Option 5. If Ms. Rose or Ms. Susan cannot answer your question, they will transfer you to the Duty Court Staff Attorney, Diana Gibbens.
10) Anything else that I need to know about Civil Duty Court? Refer to the “Top Ten Dos and Don’ts (State Court)”. But mostly remember to be courteous in your communications with the Civil Duty Court. The staff work for ALL Civil Court Judges at the 19th JDC and will not hesitate to share negative experiences with the Judges. Also, read the Civil Code and/or Code of Civil Procedure before filing your pleadings. If you have a question, do not hesitate to contact a more experienced attorney for assistance. The Civil Duty Court staff may not give legal advice.
TOP TEN TIPS FOR PRACTICING IN THE FAMILY COURT
1) Communicate with the court. When in doubt, contact the judge’s office. We would rather answer questions on the front end than fix mistakes. We can always be reached via e-mail and phone. If the judge’s office calls or e-mails you, respond. We are reaching out for a reason, not just to chat. Also, please tell your clients to not contact the court for legal advice.
2) Communicate with the opposing party. For example, when attempting to schedule a status conference, coordinate dates and times with each other before contacting the court.
3) Be on time (for court and status conferences). Be waiting on the judge, not have the judge wait on you.
4) Read local court rules. This is self-explanatory and should apply for any court you are practicing in. Before filing any pleadings, read the rules of that court.
5) Suit numbers. Before filing any new pleadings, check with the Clerk of Court to see if there is an existing suit number. If there is an existing suit number, see if there is an applicable local court rule. If you are still unsure of what to do, contact the judge’s office.
6) Case information. When e-mailing the court about a case, make sure to include the suit number, case caption, and who you represent.
7) Answer ready. By answering ready, the court may schedule and adjudicate more efficiently. This benefits everyone.
8) Know your judge. Though each division’s function is essentially uniform, each judge has a certain preference as to how they handle certain matters, such as status conferences. Know your judges’ preference.
9) Be courteous. In addition to the law, practice professionalism when dealing with, not only the court, but with opposing counsel. Never bicker in court - particularly, not on the record and especially not in front of the judge.
10) Court docket. If a review date is selected and included in a stipulated judgment, be sure to inform the judicial assistant of said date to ensure that the matter is scheduled on the court docket.
For more guidance, see:
• Josef Ventulan, Law Clerk Corner: The Family Court, THE BATON ROUGE LAWYER, Mar.-Apr. 2021.
DO’S AND DON’TS GUIDE FOR YOUNG LAWYERS
BATON ROUGE CITY COURT
1) DO – Be prepared for every status conference, hearing, or trial. Know your case backwards and forwards. Stay on track and be able to discuss the facts and applicable law.
2) DO – Mark your exhibits for identification and be able to explain the relevance to the judge in court.
3) DO – Be organized and neat in your pleadings making sure all form requirements are met.
4) DO – When filing a motion, that is expected to be contested, make sure it is accompanied by a succinct memoranda of authorities, normally not exceeding two pages.
5) DO – File your oppositions at least 24 hours prior to the hearing so the Judge and Opposing Counsel have adequate time to review it.
6) DO – Know your judge. Always check the judge’s webpage for his/her rules. Ask other lawyers about how they like to do things.
7) DO – The rules of evidence are more relaxed in Baton Rouge City Court than in District Court. This means you should know the rules and be prepared to have proof to support what relief you’re requesting.
8) DON’T rush through your pleadings. Make sure they are all signed and contain the proper form and content requirements.
9) DON’T request a continuance the day before or the day of the hearing. Requests for continuance for civil matters shall, absent extraordinary circumstances, be filed not less than seven days prior the scheduled court date.
10) DON’T argue with opposing counsel and don’t interrupt them during their arguments.