What Your Attorney Does for You: A Minnesota Judge’s View
October 5, 2009
Minnesota Judge Jay Quam speaks frankly, and to those of us who are not attorneys in the article: Judging Without Lawyers: Not Knowing Makes for Nightmares. I recommend you read Judge Quam’s article in full, but I’ve included excerpts below.
Judge Quam: “Judges want more than anything to make the right decision in the case before them but can’t be comfortable with their decision unless they can be confident they have all relevant information. Here’s where lawyers’ contribution to justice proves invaluable…
“Every judge want to do the right thing… the law is permissive enough for the judge to rule for either party depending on what the facts are. So, in the very large majority of cases, the facts are what the judge needs to guide him or her to the right decision.”
What Attorneys Do For You
Judge Quam points out that your lawyer provides him, the judge, with two essential functions. Attorneys are “professional story gatherers, and professional story tellers.” The judge is more comfortable knowing the underlying facts have been fully developed by trained professionals. This is the story gathering function. He continues:
“The story-telling part is equally valuable. For starters, the lawyers know the important courtroom rules that the clients don’t know, but which are critical to the judge’s decision. The lawyers’ knowledge of the rules of the courtroom keeps the proceeding from becoming akin to an episode of ‘“Jerry Springer.’ The list of critical things that lawyers know, but others don’t, is a really long list…” It includes:
- The law;
- The rules of evidence;
- The protocol for presenting evidence;
- When to speak;
- When not to speak;
- What is relevant, and what is not; and
- What is persuasive, and what is not.
“…With lawyers involved, the judge knows that trained professionals have sifted through the evidence and presented the judge only that evidence which is truly relevant to the dispute.”
What Happens without an Attorney?
You may decide to represent yourself in court. Here’s what the Judge has to say. “With all that lawyers do, you may, very appropriately, ask: How in the world does our adversary system function when there are not trained advocates in it?
“The answer, I have found, is ‘not very well.’ Given the complexities of our court processes, as well as the difficult skill of advocating effectively for anything that matters, it is not hard to understand why…”
What happens is that, without an attorney to represent you, the judge often sees a number of things that are needed to be done but that he or she, whether constrained by time or by ethics, cannot do. The judge cannot:
- Educate you about the law
- Educate you about procedures
- Teach you how to present yourself properly in court
- Investigate the case
All these functions, however, are precisely what you hire an attorney or lawyer to do.