It’s inevitable that you are going to be nervous. No matter how much you prepare, and how well you think you know the case, the first time you go into Court by yourself you’ll have an internal panic and wish you were back at home. Don’t worry, it happens to us all and is pretty much a part of pupillage.
The best way to handle the nerves is, of course, to know your case inside out. Make thorough notes and highlight relevant documents, as you can refer to this when the panic sets in. It sounds very obvious, but having all relevant information to hand, in your own format that you understand will put you at ease. This will act as a comfort and will assure you that you do in fact know what you’re talking about.
If asked questions by the judge whilst in Court, just ask for a moment to refer to your notes; it’s better to be sure than to waffle on and say something outside your instructions.
Be sure to tell the court ushers and clerks that it’s your first week, or the first time you are doing a particular application/hearing. They will pass this onto the Judge and, although sometimes this will not make any difference at all, the vast majority of the time, the Judge will not pressure you as much. The Judge is likely to understand that you may need more time to respond to certain questions or make submissions. Remember, the Judge was once in your position and they will remember the first time they appeared in Court and how scary that can be.
Communication styles will vary for each individual, so ensure you are flexible in your approach to delivering advice. You will also find that your communication style will differ, as you may not yet have found the style that best suits you. This will be true in many different situations and will depend upon your client’s needs. You will learn to adapt your technique to the situation.
Finally, a very simple point: when in Court, make sure you have some water. It sounds obvious, but you will get nervous. And yes, your mouth will get dry as a result. So, firstly ensure that you take your own water to Court so that you have a drink when in conference with your client. And secondly, make sure, the first thing you do when you get into Court, is to pour a drink. Very obvious, but please trust me; it helps.
I have no doubt that everyone over-prepares their cases when first starting on their feet. You will read all the papers ten times over and find any relevant case law, practice directions, statutes. This is completely normal. It’s easy to say, “don’t panic” or “don’t stress”, but the truth is you will panic. This won’t pass for quite some time. Just trust that you do know your stuff. After all, you earned a pupillage for a reason and you should be confident that, with every experience in Court, you are growing better each day.
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