I was sitting in the back of the court with a bunch of other lawyers waiting my turn at a review hearing.

The humdrum legal air was then broken by the judge operating on a higher-than-average volume directing a torrent of criticism towards a young solicitor whose legs began visibly shaking. The sin of this junior lawyer was being unable to answer everything that the judge wanted to know. We’ve all been there, right?

Thankfully, the more experienced lawyer on the other side of the bar table intervened  and courteously requested that the matter be stood down for 20 minutes so that the parties could talk. This diffused the situation.

All of us in the back of the court were silently cheering inside, whilst frantically contemplating what questions might be asked of us.

I am sure I am not the only one who has heard stories about young practitioners who have been on the receiving end of such sprays changing careers because of it.

I am a relatively senior solicitor these days but I too have been subjected to fairly ordinary judicial behavior.

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I recall being in a directions hearing once when the judge, through a friendly smile towards the barrister representing the other side, advised that a certain date was not available because the judge would be “in Europe”, yet when the judge addressed me the disdain seemed palpable. At least that was how my client’s daughter, a law student who had come along for the “experience” explained it afterwards.

I realised I was on the outer from the word go and it would have been obvious to anyone. And, if I am truthful, the experience also had quite a negative impact on my mental health.

My message to our judges: Don’t do it. Be kind.

To other lawyers: If you see someone in trouble, help them out.

To the young lawyer above: I hope you are OK.

To the intervener above: You are a hero.

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Sean Kelly is a Director and Head of Commercial & Property at Kelly Legal.

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2 Responses

  1. Some solicitors let the team down as advocates and deserve criticism from the bench by not being properly prepared.
    To them I would quote Wayne Bennett, “Don’t get bitter. Get better.”

    To inexperienced victims of unnecessarily demeaning criticism from the bench , don’t take it personally and don’t despair. I’ve seen it happen to silks and other people much smarter and more competent than me (by which I mean, most advocates).

    At the risk of being labelled sexist, judicial courtesy and patience, in Queensland at least, seem to have improved considerably as the number of female judges has increased. Justice Margaret White set the standard.

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