During the first six to twelve months of your practice, you are probably not going to be consistently busy with work. It can be difficult during those times where you have little business to keep your momentum and spirits up. Use that time wisely.
How can you use that time wisely? Observe other attorneys.
In the Court Room
Go to a courthouse that you practice in on a regular basis, or hope to practice in on a regular basis, and take a seat. (Hint: you may want to look online or call ahead of time to see what the day’s docket looks like.) You will see great lawyers and not so great lawyers. Take notes. Talk to the attorneys afterwards and, if appropriate, ask questions. At first you may feel uncomfortable just sitting in the courtroom when you don’t have a case, but that’s normal. Every attorney who is successful has observed attorneys in the past and likely still does, when possible.
And don’t just observe the lawyers. Observe the judges; this is especially true if you want to practice regularly in that courtroom. First of all, the judges will get used to seeing your face in the courtroom and you’ll get used to seeing them in the courtroom, which will make your first few appearances in front of them a little less intimidating. Pay attention to which judges ask a lot of questions (hot bench) and which judges just listen (cold bench). If there is an opportune time, introduce yourself to the judge. Even better, if you know an attorney in the courtroom well, ask that attorney to introduce you to the judge before or after their case gets started.
Aside from observing and learning from different attorneys and judges by watching, being at the courthouse is good for you and good for your practice. You will slowly learn to mingle with the attorneys, which means more business contacts and more confidence in yourself. You may even find a mentor in the process. Many people say, and I certainly agree, you get business when you are in the courtroom. It may not be your perfect golden case, but people who are appearing in court and need an attorney often ask other attorneys in the courtroom to take their case (before accepting their case, read this article, specifically about representation letters).
And here’s the flip side: if you have someone available to you, have them come and observe you in the courtroom. Ask them to take notes on things they thought you did well and things they thought you could improve on. Were you comfortable with the judge or did you come across stiff and nervous or overly comfortable? Did your client continuously talk to you during the case so that you missed things? Did you appear organized? Did your arguments come across rehearsed and like you were reading from a script? When we are in the midst of a case, we aren’t focused on how we are appearing, we are focused on getting the job done and presenting the case.
Observing from both sides—being observed and being the observer—can do wonders for your practice, your confidence, and your ability to adequately represent your clients. Take the time to observe and be observed, and don’t be scared to face the problems you might have in the courtroom head on with change and improvement.
Make the best of a slow month by learning and observing in the courtroom while you have the time to do so.