A Day In The Life of a Paralegal: A Step Backwards in the Right Direction
Friday 8th May 2015 will forever be the day that I first made a legal submission to a Judge. I say ‘legal submission’ as if I was preparing to argue in front of the entire 12 Supreme Court Justices. However, my submission was more a procedural point that needed to be explained to the Judge in the County Court. But in my defence, I would be cheating myself out of a career milestone if I thought of it any less than my legal debut in front of a seasoned member of the judiciary.
I arrived at the Court promptly wearing my best suit and my teal ‘GW’ coloured tie whilst clutching at the grey file that was under my arm. I went through security, and walked to the waiting room and greeted the Usher. I introduced myself and stated that I was here to make a submission to the Judge. The Usher stated that I might be waiting a while, as they were particularly busy that morning. I managed to find a seat, which was also being used to prop open a door to let fresh air in to the room, feeling like the naughty child that had been sent to the back of the classroom. I looked around at the various lawyers who were sitting around the room, who were all busy studying documents, or writing down their ideas on notepads. I followed suit and took out my notepad, and started writing down the submissions that I proposed to make.
It must be said that this was not the first time that I had been in a court. I had been in the Magistrates’ Court and the Crown Court before. I had also visited the County Court with Jonathan a few weeks before on a different matter. However, on all of these previous occasions I was just a spectator. This time was different – I was the one who would be speaking directly to the Judge, and I would be the one who would look foolish if I crumbled in front of them.
An hour passed, and the Usher peered around the corner and summoned me over. She walked me down to Chambers, and knocked at the door. The Judge invited her in. At this point, I was so focused on my initial appearance that I didn’t quite hear the words that the Usher used to introduce me. In any event, I walked in with a nervous smile and nothing else than a ‘good morning, Madam’. I walked over to the chair that the Judge was pointing to and sat down.
Now, I hadn’t thought about my conduct in front of the Judge much beforehand, as I was worried that I might overthink it, and lose focus on what I actually had to achieve whilst there. I waited for her to put the papers in front of her first, before I reached into my file and pulled out my own papers. I thought that this might show some level of respect. In hindsight, I doubt that she even took any notice!
We started discussing the matter, which I will obviously not go into any detail about here. In brief, she initially refused what I was asking for within 30 seconds of me taking my seat, and then asked whether I knew of any reason that she should order what I wanted. The thought immediately came into my mind ‘of course I don’t – you’re the Judge. If you do not know of any reason, then what are the chances that I am going to?” Another thought followed: “what if this is a test? What if the Judge realises that this is all new to me and wants to see whether I have the tenacity to put forward a logical legal submission under the pressure that inevitably comes with your first appearance?” I stammered, and put forward my submission, half expecting the worse.
However, after a few seconds (that felt like several minutes) the Judge agreed with my submission and said that she would order what I had come to the Court to get. I was delighted that I had got what I wanted after a gut-wrenching 5 minutes in Chambers, and I could go back to the office with my head held high. I quickly started writing a note to myself of what the Judge had said so that I could pass on the relevant information when I returned back to the office, without having to worry about my delight clouding my memory.
I thanked the Judge, and bid farewell. It was over – I had succeeded. Little did I know what would happen next…
For those of you that are familiar with the codes of conduct which should be followed in front of a Judge, you will be aware that it is highly disrespectful to show your back to them for any prolonged period of time. However, I took this a bit too literally, and left my seat and started walking backwards towards the door. In hindsight, I must have looked like I was doing some kind of rendition to Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk, but at the time I felt like I was following the normal protocol. I took the first 3 steps back, and then backed into one of the 6 foot tall filing cabinets that furnished the room. The dinthat it made sent my heart sinking. I felt my face start to go red. I turned around promptly, wished the Judge an enjoyable weekend, and dashed out of the door in a split second, only hoping that nothing was going to smash behind me. Luckily, it didn’t – I don’t even think that my impeccable manners prior to the Moonwalk would have saved me.
So there we are, my first experience appearing in front of a Judge and making a legal submission. I was delighted to have such a great opportunity so early in my career, and I learnt a lot during that hour and a half. In particular I learnt not to ever walk backwards, even if it is a step in the right direction on the career path.
Until next time…