Back to top
Article

Ask Ash

20 October 14

Advice column: I'm dreading having to make that first court appearance

Dear Ash

I will soon be moving to the litigation department as part of my training contract. I am petrified at the prospect of having to attend court and present cases. Trainee colleagues have told me about their humiliating experiences, including being shouted at by frustrated sheriffs when they were unable to answer questions, or reprimanded for calling the sheriff by the wrong title. Others were embarrassed at having to cope with the large gowns as they seemed to obstruct access to paperwork, and one colleague actually tripped up as a result of her gown catching the back of her heel. I am now also fearful of making a fool of myself in front of everyone at court.

Ash replies:

The prospect of standing up in court on behalf of clients is understandably daunting, especially when you have never had the experience. However, be assured that you will not be the first nor the last person to feel this way.

It is important to remember the little details, such as standing on the correct side of the sheriff clerk depending whether you are acting for the defender or pursuer, ensuring you address the sheriff with the correct title, and standing up when the sheriff enters and leaves the courtroom.

Of course, it is also important to ensure you are fully prepared, and this should help to curb the nerves. Therefore, make sure you read the papers in advance and are aware of the main dates and timelines, as well as the general background to the case, as a sheriff may try to test your knowledge even where you are just asking for a simple continuation.

I still recall my own first experience and the initial feelings of anxiety as I stood up to present my case. Having observed the sheriff grill other junior lawyers, I realised it was important to try to remain calm and give the appearance of confidence. However, some of my bravado fell away when halfway through my submission, I mistakenly called the female sheriff “my Lord” instead of “my Lady”. This did not go down well, but I have not made that mistake again.

I did not let this experience deter me and my confidence grew the more cases I dealt with. More senior solicitors confirm that the nerves do not necessarily go away; you just learn to hide any anxieties and to think better on your feet. Appearing in court is very similar to a performance in the theatre; the trick is to learn to control your fears and to act confidently and with conviction. Just remember that every solicitor present will inevitably have made mistakes and will have been reprimanded from time to time by the sheriff, but this is just par for the course and it is what makes this type of work at times unpredictable but also interesting.

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor: peter@connectcommunications.co.uk, or mail to Studio 2001, Mile End, Paisley PA1 1JS. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Registrar’s Department. For one-to-one advice, contact Katie Wood, manager in the Registrar’s Department, on 0131 476 8105/8200, or katiewood@lawscot.org.uk

Have your say