Respect: The rusty sword of the judicial system Part I
By DS Gands
Aug 12, 2003
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Everywhere you go these days, someone, somewhere is talking about the little injustices of the world, although they seem, to the speaker, inestimable.  They say how they got scammed on a phone bill.  How they were ripped off buy a teller at a bank.  Then come the BIG ones.  How their ex-spouse got a better deal in the divorce, or they lost their front yard in an eminent domain case to the local authorities wanting to build a new road.  And, there you have it.  Once you cross the line from complaining and step into the courtroom, it’s a whole different ball game. You are no longer a victim or the accused.  You’re a competitor, and this is a very competitive society. 

The mentality of most these days is that of a spectator at a high school football game.  No, they really don’t want anyone’s child to be killed, but they will cheer for their side to break a bone or two.  Just like in other areas of life, the participants in these events get their roles crossed, and you could get thrown out of the game for that one.


So it goes with the judicial system in this country.  Justice is the football.  The plaintiff and defendant are the teams.  They flip a coin to choose a jury – the referee comes in – everyone rises as if it were the used-to-be prayer before the game, and the gavel strikes like the sound of a gun signaling the start.  From there, it’s a yard at a time, fumbles, bad snaps, incomplete passes, Hail Mary’s, bombs to the bullet, up-ends, instant replays, penalties, pile-ups, punts, field goals, touchdowns, injured players, time-outs, the final score, and the analyses on the ten o’clock newscast, ad nauseam.  Just like in a courtroom.


It’s not just the game.  It’s the total organization that makes this competitive swill.   You have to understand that the makeup of the system involves owners, managers, coaches, players, special teams, and the ever-popular rule making authority, which for purposes of this article, I will call the NFL – the Notoriously Fickle Lawmakers.  Oh, and there is my personal favorite – media.


The owner of this game is public policy.


There’s much more to the story than just the people’s perspective. There are the reasons it got this way.  The only part in the courtroom description herein that doesn’t happen very often is the rising for the judge or jury entering or leaving the courtroom.  (After all, prayer has been eliminated from most sporting events.)  The tradition, and expectation in earlier times, was a show of respect.  It’s a symbol of protest and attitude, today.  It’s a lack of respect.


There are many aspects of the judicial system that could be returned to a perception of honor, the very first being the attitude and participation, on many levels, of the spectators, who very often become a member of a team, by the way.   You would be the quarterback – the one that gets all the glory or hit by a charging refrigerator.  You have to be a leader, disciplined, and a team player.  If you make the decision to play the game, the very first step is to understand it and build a team.  Finding the right coach (attorney) is essential.


The opening play by a prospective party in a lawsuit should be to study the other team, develop a play schedule, and execute a training and evaluation program.  In other words, shop ‘til you drop, interviewing attorneys. Do not make an appointment and go in without training.  It is the first, and could be the most expensive, step in the process.


Get prepared.  Know your case.  Write a journal of the facts with dates, times, events, witnesses, and support it with documentation or records.  Organize your file in a manner that allows you quick access while you are discussing the matter with an attorney.  And make sure to return all of the documents to your file before you leave.  Keep an index of your records, and update it every time you replace a document or add a new one.  It is a handy reference that will serve you well during the course of this grueling game.


Make a specific list of questions that you want to ask the attorney about the case and about the attorney.  There are many different questionnaires available on the Internet.  Download them, mix and match to fit your needs, modify it to suit your needs, and print a few off.  Look the attorney up on the State Bar website, if available, or call and ask for status and standing before you make an appointment.  Make a list of the ones you want to target.  Begin the contact process, and start interviewing.


During the interview, mark your questionnaire as you get answers.  Take notes.  Be precise.  State the facts, and do not react to the questions asked of you – respond.  Don’t let your emotions get the better of you.  Attorneys are not therapists.  They are not your best friends.  They are skilled professionals that are hired to do a job that most cannot do for themselves.  It could be that you are looked at as a billing opportunity and not a person in need of quality representation.  If you are not an emotional wreck, and you do present as informed and intelligent, it may be that the attorney will be cautious.  Confident, experienced, knowledgeable, and reasonable is what you are looking for.  Don’t let emotion of any kind have an impact on the most critical portion of the process – selecting an attorney to represent you.


Learn how much time and effort your attorney will dedicate to your case, and who will be responsible as support staff.  Knowing your team, and each person’s responsibility in your case, is a vital part of securing the information flow between you and your attorney, and an important factor to consider when evaluating an office or firm as a possible candidate.


Make sure, when you leave, to get a receipt or something in writing on the attorney’s letterhead that documents the consultation and the subject.  For each subsequent attorney, you will need to provide a list of attorney’s with whom you have discussed the case, in addition to any other professionals with whom you have shared information.  This is a critical part of your participation in the process.  It could make a decided difference in the possible counsel of the opposing team.  Attorneys that have consulted with you regarding your case should not be opposing counsel and may be disqualified or withdraw from representing on the case due to documentation of previous consultation.


Get references from attorneys.  Where they practice, past practice(s), years of experience, areas of specialization, training, accolades, recognitions, and types of cases recently represented.  Being able to verify track records is a valuable part of determining the value of this coach.  Find out what counties/states he or she practices in and run a search on the records.  Look at the cases that have been adjudicated, and compare them with other attorneys’ cases.  Of course, without knowing the facts, it is difficult to determine why some cases have a large number of filings, but if you find that lengthy cases are the normal, ask.  You may get satisfactory answers.  Then again, maybe not.  Be sure to ask if they carry malpractice insurance, and whether or not they have ever been a party in a lawsuit – any type – anywhere – at anytime during their career.


If in your initial training, you do your homework and find some similar cases that would be available for review, and by all means, go to the clerk’s office that is the custodian of the file and ask to review them.  Be advised that some cases are not available for public viewing, but most Family Law cases are public record, without seals, in Texas.  It would be worth going to the courthouse and reviewing a few cases after your interviews to determine the quality of the product produced by the candidates, as well.


Copyright 2003 by DS Gands, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

D.S. Gands is a freelance writer living in North Texas.  The opinions of this article do not necessarily reflect the perspectives of this publication.  If you would like to see this or other articles by D.S. Gands appear in your favorite publication, ask the editor to contact  regarding available reprint or syndication rights.