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 III: How to Get Settlements

You can maximize your chances of settling by submitting your settlement conference statement on time, giving the Court enough time to read it. Be sure, of course, to show it to Opposing Counsel.  

Prepare your client for compromise

Use the mandatory settlement conference to show client the trial process. Let them look in on jury room or a jury trial (“this is the jury pool”). This will often bring it home to your client what a jury trial will take. Help invest the client in the process. Point it out if the judge makes a good point when criticizing the client’s case.

Sometimes the client wants to settle but the attorney is so invested that he or she takes it personally. Work through that issue and pay close attention to what your client is saying so this doesn’t happen to you. 

Be a human being! Sometimes there are lots of feelings in a settlement negotiation. People expect to be heard and understood. Frequently, plaintiffs feel betrayed. It is your job to help the client get through the process. 

What about different negotiation styles between men and women?

In general, women are better at listening, at looking at their cases from different points of view, and thus at preparing their client. In addition, women are better at being compassionate with the client’s experience of court. Use these skills to your advantage.

Additional advice

  • Ask for what you need. For example, “My client just needs to be heard.” Or, “She just wants an apology.”
  • Judges are people – talk to them that way in settlement conferences.
  • Clerks are helpful, but only if you are nice to them!

Read the first post in the series here, the second on presentation in court here
 
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.