Do Not Forget the Judicial Assistants When it comes to Professional Courtesy

Published March 2013
By Cathy L. Purvis Lively

Recognizing the Judicial Assistant as deserving of the respect of a professional is not a marketing gimmick on the part of greeting card companies or florists. It is an integral part of the Palm Beach County Bar Association Standards of Professional Courtesy. The Preamble of Standards provides in part that “the overriding principles promoted by these standards are communication between counsel and cooperation with the courts,” The standards expressly include our dealings with Judicial Assistants.[1] In preparing this article, I spoke with several Judicial Assistants about what lawyers can do to improve the professional relationship between the bar and the Judicial Assistants. However, we did not discuss or refer to the Standards. I first asked questions about the actions on the part of members of the bar that are most frustrating to the Judicial Assistants.

The most commonly noted examples of actions leading to the Judicial Assistants’ frustration are when the attorney or staff:

  •  Does not follow the divisional instructions, particularly when the Judicial Assistant has provided specific information.
  •  Calls the Judicial Assistants with questions that are readily available by reading the on-line divisional instructions. A repeated example is calling to ask what time the Judge or General Magistrate holds 8:45 UMC Hearings.
  •  Refuses to accept that each Judge or General Magistrate has their own instructions and procedures.
  •  Refuses to accept that the procedures of a division will not change from one case to another and repeatedly calls the Judicial Assistant in hopes of getting a different answer.
  •  Calls the Judicial Assistant to schedule hearings but does not have the necessary information available, e.g., does not know the case number, what motion is to be heard, or the amount of time needed.
  • Does not make an effort to coordinate and to schedule with opposing counsel and causes both sides to repeatedly call the Judicial Assistant
  •  Makes repeated phone calls to the Judicial Assistants inquiring as to the status of trial docket and the likelihood that they will be called to trial, yet when the Judicial Assistant attempts to contact the same attorney, makes it difficult to get through to anyone who can provide information.
  •  Avoids calls from the Judicial Assistant by repeatedly making themself unavailable, making various excuses, or directing the calls to voice-mail.
  •  Does not return calls or messages from the Judicial Assistants, particularly when the Judicial Assistants is trying to schedule a matter.
  •  Fails to timely notify the Judicial Assistant when the matter has been settled or resolved.
  •  Is condescending, demanding, and otherwise inconsiderate when talking with the Judicial Assistant.
  •  Sends unnecessary copies of correspondence or other filings.
  •  Does not provide the appropriate number of copies and self-addressed, stamped envelopes or just provides plain, unaddressed, and un-stamped envelopes.

I then asked questions about what we can do to improve the professional relationship. The responses can be summarized as follows:

  • Read and follow the divisional instructions. The individual divisional instructions can be accessed through the website.  Before calling, take the time to read the divisional instructions. If there are still questions, the Judicial Assistants are willing to address questions or to clarify the instructions.
  • Read and follow the Administrative Orders. Administrative Orders are online

We do not have to look very far to find a solution as there is clear guidance found in our own Standards of Professional Courtesy. In contrast to the examples of actions noted in this article, if we follow the principles set forth in the Standards of Professional Courtesy we can go a long way to eliminate the sources of unnecessary frustration for  the Judicial Assistant. As a result, this will make our working relationship more productive and promote the positive and professional image of the lawyer. The Judicial Assistants with whom I spoke did not have the Palm Beach Rules of Professional Conduct in front of them, however, the majority of their responses are actually addressed by the following Standards:

Standard III(5)  “Attorneys should act and speak civilly to the courtroom deputies/bailiff’s, clerks, court reporters, judicial assistants and law clerks with an awareness that they, too, are an integral part of the judicial system. Attorneys should be selective in inquiries posted to judicial assistants to avoid wasting their time. Attorneys should endeavor to be knowledgeable about the court administrative orders, local rules and each judge’s published or posted practices and procedures.”

Standard I(4) “Attorneys should promptly notify the court or other tribunal of any resolution between parties that renders a scheduled court appearance unnecessary or otherwise moot.”

The Standards are on-line.

If we adhere to these standards when we deal with the Judicial Assistant in our daily practice, we will not only promote the principals articulated in the Palm Beach County Bar Association Standards of Professional Courtesy but we will improve the professional relationship between members of the bar and the Judicial Assistants.

Cathy L. Purvis Lively, Esq., Lively Law Firm, 8401 Lake Worth Road, #120, Lake Worth, FL 33467, 561-713-1197.





[1]. Standard III(5)

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