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IndyBar: Civility in the Reality TV Era

May 3, 2017

By Andrew R. Bloch, Cross Pennamped Woolsey & Glazier PC

I’ve been rather busy lately, which has created a backlog on our DVR at home. I recently had the “opportunity” to watch the show “You, The Jury.” It’s a reality television show where the audience at home votes on the merits of a case after watching some well-known attorneys present their cases to a studio audience, a judge, and you, the television viewer at home. The studio audience cheers as the lawyers present their cases and the judge overrules and sustains objections. The production value is high as the audience is treated to video vignettes and sound bites from well-rehearsed attorneys. I turned it off. “It’s all just for show,” I thought.

What’s this have to do with family law? Everything. It’s a reminder that it’s up to lawyers and judges like us to make sure that our profession is reflected in the best light possible. Many of the people who appear in court are experiencing the legal system for the first time. Their only prior experience may be what they’ve seen on television. The problem is that they’re no longer watching the virtuous Perry Mason or my personal favorite, Ben Matlock.

Here are some easy tips that can help promote our profession while advocating for our clients.

Be on time for court. If you don’t think being at court on time is important, your client likely won’t either.

Wear court-appropriate attire. Require your clients to wear court-appropriate attire as well.

Don’t speak to your client when the judge is speaking to you or your client. Don’t let your client interrupt the judge either.

Our adversarial system doesn’t actually require you to be a jerk to opposing counsel or the opposing party.

Talk with your client beforehand about courtroom procedures so they know what to expect.

Treat the court staff with respect.

Don’t allow your client or anyone in the gallery to chirp in during testimony.

If your client has family members or friends in the gallery for emotional support, remind them they’re not participants. Judges can see eye-rolls and hear exasperated sighs from the gallery.

Remind your client that oftentimes in family law, there are no winners or losers: a theme that is common on legal television shows. The judge doesn’t often bang the gavel and make a decision.

Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of each of us to uphold the integrity of the legal profession. If we are unwilling or unable to do it, the entire system will continue to suffer.•

This article originally appeared on the Family Law Section webpage. Check out even more news and resources from the section at indybar.org/fam.

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