A Guide to your FIrst Case Management Conference

I just recently made my first telephonic appearance via CourtCall for an initial case management conference in a case I wasn’t very familiar with in a court I wasn’t familiar with. I guess that’s what learning is about right? Especially when you are switching practice areas and are at a new firm.  I was never really sure about being a litigator, but this is the kind of thing that made me hesitate – appearing in front of a judge.

So for any other new and anxious attorneys who have ANY question about what the CMC process is like, here’s what I experienced during my ONE CMC with a specific judge (I hear other judges/departments have different protocols. Considering my inexperience, I cannot really say one way or the other). Also could be interesting if you are a layperson and want to read a story about what lawyers sometimes are doing in court.

I dialed the CourtCall number 5 minutes before the CMC’s scheduled time, like the CourtCall instructions provide. I heard some hold music and repeating message reminding the caller to have the attorney’s name, the case name, and the judge’s name ready. Soon an operator picked my call up and asked for the name of the Judge I was appearing in front of, and then my name. She said ok, and that she was going to put me on hold again until the judge got started. Back to hold music.

Eventually the hold music stopped and I could hear a fuzzy silence. I could hear a little bit of shuffling, and some muffled voices that sounded far away from wherever the microphone was. I heard someone definitely saying something to the other people in the room, but I really couldn’t hear it. I started getting really paranoid that I somehow had a bad connection to the courtroom and I wasn’t going to be able to understand what the judge was saying. Eventually I realized that it was the bailiff, and it really didn’t matter what he was saying. Once I heard the judge clearly tell everyone to be seated I knew I was going to be okay.

The judge started off on some schtick that judges do, he said something about 60 cases on the calendar today, but I couldn’t comprehend it as I was struggling to figure out the best way to listen and pay attention on the phone when the office walls are so thin you can hear the typing of the person next to you. I had already decided my best plan of action was to just listen to what everyone else does and take notes, so I would know what to do when it’s my turn. Now all I had to do was hope my case wasn’t called first!

Luckily, it wasn’t. I ended up being around #30 on the list so I got to listen to a lot of people represent their clients at other case management conferences so I knew exactly what to expect when my case got called. That’s the other thing, if you’re on CourtCall, you don’t get to see the list of what order the cases are going to be called in, and you have to really listen to make sure you don’t miss your case name getting called. I had initially planned on trying to do some other work while I was waiting for my case to be called, but I couldn’t quiet the nerves or the anxiety about missing my case. I therefore listened intently to the happenings and status of all the cases before me.

I also was able to take note of the most effective tactics and ways of speaking and the overall vibe of the courtroom. Apparently LA courts and lawyers are a lot more combative than they are up here, which is reassuring to me that I made the right decision to move. I think I even heard one of my friends make an appearance, although he was speaking so fast I could barely understand him. He has a very distinct voice though and I’m 80% sure it was him. As a matter of fact, I’m going to go look him up right now and see where he’s working.

So essentially for every case, the judge will say the full case name and then wait for the attorneys to announce themselves. I felt that typically the attorney representing the plaintiff would introduce themselves first, in substantially the form “Good afternoon your honor (it was 2:15pm – but also a lot of people still said good morning), [NAME] for the Plaintiff.” You could also say [NAME] appearing for the Plaintiff, or [NAME] appearing for the Plaintiff [PLAINTIFF’S NAME]. I chose to just say “appearing for the Defendant.” In the time I was listening, it only happened once that both attorneys started introducing themselves in unison.

Then, the judge will ask the Plaintiff what is going on in the case. Since we are defense counsel, it’s a lot easier for us. Defense counsel basically only says anything if Plaintiff’s counsel says something outlandish or incorrect. Almost everyone whose case was called was on an initial CMC, and was “just getting discovery started,” so almost everyone’s got moved to a date at least 90 days away.

Apparently that was also our goal. Discovery really had just gotten started in our case, like we just received discovery requests that had apparently been served on our client 2 months ago.

Our turn. Plaintiff’s counsel was asked what was going on in the case, and he said we would appreciate a 90 to 120-day extension. The judge picked a date in April for a further CMC, and that was that. I said “That’s perfect, your honor.” And then “Thanks, your honor.” And we were done! I think I may have hung up a little prematurely, but what can you do. Next time I would suggest putting the phone back on mute and waiting to make sure that the judge actually is moving on to the next case.

I have another CMC coming up in a few days. I’ll keep you apprised accordingly.


No comments