Can I Have Those Words Back, Please?

April 21, 2012

I just had to share these words of wisdom from

There are so many times in our careers when our mouths start moving before our brains engage. As Cathy says, “…take a deep breath, with your mouth closed, and then ask for time.”

Can I Have Those Words Back, Please?

It was one of those occasions when in retrospect, you’re certain there is no neural path between your brain and your mouth.

And it happened in public, in a courtroom, with my client present.

My creditor client filed an objection to confirmation of a Chapter 13 in pro per.  Opposing counsel filed a response.  The response tracked each of the wordy and ill focused complaints my client had voiced.

In preparation for the hearing, I had formulated our objections in my head, tracking the code and those issues I thought essential to Chapter 13 confirmation.

At the prehearing, the judge turned to me and asked me which of the numbered paragraphs in the eight page debtor’s response were still in play.

Certainly before thinking, I blurted out “You expect me to speak to their pleading?”

My  unspoken subtext was clearly, “You’ve got to be kidding, judge.”

My position was organized better, in my head, and I had seen no point in furthering the rambling that came from the debtor’s response to an ill focused objection.  Better, I thought, to distill the remaining objections.

But the judge wanted it differently.

I repeat this painful story, which is quite recent, for a purpose.  Make it your practiced response, when caught off guard, to ask for time.

In  this case, the judge saved me from further embarrassment by passing the matter to the end of the calendar.  That was enough time to come up with my list of objections, by numbered paragraph,  still in play.

If the problem you confront is a matter of missing facts or a question of strategy or compromise, ask for an opportunity to confer with your client, either in the hallway or on the phone.

If the issue that threatens your case is a legal one to which you don’t know the answer, ask for an opportunity to brief the question.  It’s OK to admit you don’t know, or that you think the answer is thus-and-such.  Offer to brief it for the court so that the basis for the decision you want is in the record.

Too much bravura and too much courtroom television makes us think that we must have an answer for everything at the tip of our tongue.  It isn’t so.

When flummoxed in the courtroom, take a deep breath, with your mouth closed, and then ask for time.

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