You’ve been in practice for a few months now, and you’re feeling good. Maybe you’ve helped some family members draft simple wills or you’ve advised clients on contract drafting–maybe even examined some leases. You’re confident. Ready.

Then you get your first day in court–small claims, Superior/Circuit Court, or Federal Court–it doesn’t matter. They all have their quirks and their rules. First things first: read the local rules for any court you are about to enter/file an Appearance in. Second: be prepared.

One thing that Ben and I learned the hard way (well, me more so than Ben) is that you will think you are prepared; you will think you’ve got the perfect outline; you will think your exhibits are perfectly organized; and you will think you’re ready. But you’re not and that’s okay. The first time I stepped into Court I was blindsided by the opposing party who brought up things I simply hadn’t prepared for. I was able to rebut it and come out on the other side with the result my client needed, but I was shaken.

It still gives me a pit in my stomach just thinking about it. But you’ve got to pick yourself up and move on.

Once the dust has settled, the best way to handle it is not to be the loudest attorney in the room, but to be the best prepared attorney in the room. That advise is not novel, but it’s easy to forget. In fact, it was my partner Ben who reminded me of that. Things may go wrong and the Judge may ask you something you didn’t think of, but if you’re prepared and confident in your preparation then you can be confident that your preparation can and will carry you through. You may not win the case or get the result you want for your client, but you can walk away knowing that you did the right things–you prepared as hard as you could and advocated for your client as hard as you could. The legal profession and our clients deserve that from us.