Women Judges: Tips from the Bench

On October 19, 2016, the ACBA hosted an MCLE in which four women judges (Judges Winifred Smith, Ioana Petrou, and Tara Flanagan of the Alameda County Superior Court, and Hon. Lynn Duryee (Ret.), formerly of the Marin County Superior Court, and now with JAMS) shared their perspectives and judicial tips on women lawyers and litigation. As a former litigator, I found their comments fascinating. This panel inspired the following three-part series on Tips From the Bench. Here are some of the points that they made, and issues they raised. 

Part II: Presentation in Court

  1. Clothing: appearance matters. Be professional. Be sure your clothes are comfortable, so that you project confidence and comfort.
  2. Jurors see how you treat everyone in the courtroom, and don’t like hostility or dismissiveness. The judge doesn’t, either.
  3. If the judge looks at you when opposing counsel does something, it is time to object! That’s all the judge can do if something objectionable is happening.
  4. For all attorneys, but especially women – you cannot assume that everyone in the courtroom will take you seriously. You must establish yourself.
  5. Know the rules of evidence like the back of your hand, and use a cheat sheet. Sit through someone else’s trial, ideally before a judge that you may appear before, to see how it’s done, and how that judge likes to handle things.
  6. When the case is over (settled, or appeals exhausted), most judges are happy to talk to you about how you presented your case. This feedback can be invaluable.
  7. Take ownership of the Courtroom. Act confidently and comfortably (even if you are nervous). Be an actor. Men tend to be better at this so women need to work on it. 
  8. It is okay to bring sexist behavior to judge’s attention. For example, when opposing counsel calls all the male witnesses Mr. So and So, but calls a woman witness by her first name. Whenever you are calling the Court’s attention to it, be sure to do so in a dignified way. 

Read the first post in the series here, and keep an eye out for the third part of the Tips From the Bench Series: How to Get Settlements.
 
Tiela Chalmers is the CEO and General Counsel of the Alameda County Bar Association the Volunteer Legal Services Corporation. Tiela has been a consultant in the fields of legal services and pro bono. Prior to that she was the Executive Director of Volunteer Legal Services Program (now JDC) in San Francisco. Tiela started her career as an attorney at Farella, Braun + Martel in San Francisco.