Friday, September 30, 2011

Showing Up Is 90% of the Battle

One of the most common questions I get from clients is whether they have to appear in court for court appearances, and, if so, why do they have to appear?  Some courts and types of cases require the clients to appear for all appearances (family cases, criminal cases).  Other cases tend to only require the clients to show up for trials and settlement conferences to ensure that the client is truly engaged with what is going on.  But I've found that regardless of the type of case, it's always important for the client to appear at least one time to see what happens, to watch their attorney and the opposing attorney and the judge and what is going on.  Even a little time in court can go a long way to truly understanding what the case is about, what they are being billed for and how they can participate.

My friend had a very low level criminal case that he had to drive 3 hours to appear for today (he's not an attorney, he's actually a college student).  For the past week or so, he and I have been talking on the phone about what to expect, who to talk to and generally what he could expect to happen when he got to court.  Since it was such a minor offense, it didn't make economic sense for him to hire an attorney, but he was happy to keep me "in the wings" in case he needed someone to help out if things got out of hand.

Just as we had discussed, things went smoothly and he agreed to pay a fine even lower than what we had discussed as a reasonable way to resolve the case.  The reason?  He showed up to court, engaged with the court personnel, explaining to the court officer why he was there and who he wanted to speak to.  When he was directed to the prosecutor, they appeared to be surprised that a pro se ("self-represented") litigant approached them to discuss the case.  They discussed their proposed fine and fees and he was concerned it was too much.

The case was apparently called and the judge and prosecutor did their part and my friend indicated that he wanted to accept an offer, but could not pay the fine they were requesting as he was a college student.  The judge directed my friend and the prosecutor to step outside and discuss their offer.  They agreed to a lower fine and when they re-entered the courtroom, they called the case again and my friend was done and on his way, while most of the others in the courtroom looked on in wonder.  He was one of the first people to get his case finished for the morning.

Quite simply, my friend showed up, engaged the various actors in the courthouse, and was able to arrange for a suitable resolution to his case.  Just as in life in general, showing up is often the hardest, but most rewarding, part of any lawsuit.

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