Career Tip from a Tee Shirt

Sportswear as legal educator
Sportswear as legal educator

Seen on a tee-shirt in Key West: A good lawyer knows the law, but a great lawyer knows the judge! The tee shirt is right, and that’s a point that wasn’t sufficiently conveyed to me in law school or even by many lawyers afterward. I’m not suggesting anything untoward. It’s part of a litigator’s job to know the judge.

For a long time, I was far too intimidated by judges. Their robes conveyed a priest-like importance; the “In God we trust” signs in courtrooms seemed to imply some higher power—that perhaps only they could access?—was involved. Judges’ benches are elevated, compelling us to look up at them.

Judges are people. Some are smart, some are not. Some are levelheaded, some are quirky. Some are blustery, others are even-keeled. Some are good writers. Some are quick on their feet. Some let proceedings drag on. Some are too decisive and unwilling to backtrack. Lawyers need to play to judges’ strengths and to help them move past their weaknesses.

Know the judge. Know judges. Socialize a local bar meetings, get involved in the community, sit in courtrooms for a bit. When you’re on the job, tailor your pitch to maximize the likelihood that the judge will be persuaded.

—Lori Tripoli

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