by Kristin Zurek, JD of Cordell & Cordell, P.C.
“Today, I had an opposing party yell at me right in the middle of the courtroom… I guarantee that when we get to trial I will use her outburst to my client’s advantage.”
One of the aspects of family law litigation of which I am keenly aware is that this is emotionally charged litigation. Your family is in crisis, and I am the one charged with helping lead you through this terrible situation. I look at my license on the wall that states that I am an “attorney and counselor” at law, and I understand that a good portion of my day is spent on counseling aspect of my job. As such, I often feel the need while my clients are progressing through litigation to help them keep their emotions in check at the proper times.
1. You can get upset and emotional when you’re on the phone with your attorney. When a client raises his voice with me, or hangs up on me, I am the first to realize that it’s the stress of the situation or the news I’m delivering that is upsetting to them. If you happen to get upset with your attorney, it’s okay. We understand it is a part of the process.
2. You can get emotional, but not upset, with any Court-appointed Guardian ad Litem. I had a client call me embarrassed because he teared up when in his meeting with the GAL. I was quick to point out to him that the emotions coming out make it very clear that your kids are very important to you, and those kinds of emotions are okay to have. Conversely, it is never okay to yell at your Court appointed Guardian ad Litem, either in person or in writing. They carry a tremendous amount of weight with the Judge, so it’s important to always be respectful of them and their position of authority in your case. If you’re upset with the GAL, let your attorney convey those emotions. They will do so in the proper and respectful manner necessary.
3. You must keep your cool in depositions. The other attorney will be there to ask you questions, and to try to rattle you. At some point in the deposition, I guarantee you will want to yell at the opposing counsel. If you find yourself getting upset, ask to take a bathroom break. A breather outside with your attorney will do wonders. You have to remember you’re creating a record that the Judge has the potential to see/read.
4. Keep your emotions in check when you are in Court. Recognize that the Judge, the clerks, and other attorneys are watching you, and that your behavior will be remembered. I recently had a situation where my client stormed out of the courtroom immediately after the Judge concluded the record. The Guardian ad Litem in the case came up to me to ask why my client was so upset, and asked if it was because of her recommendation. The Judge also made a comment to me after the hearing about my client’s swift departure. Always remember when you’re in litigation, the eyes of the court are omnipresent. You don’t want to pass off the wrong impression to the people that are going into deciding your case, and you definitely don’t want your actions to become court personnel break-room fodder.
5. Trial is an attorney specific issue. I am an attorney that doesn’t mind if a client cries a bit on the stand, or raises his voice on the issues that really matter. Some of my other colleagues prefer a client to keep their cool in every courtroom situation. I would encourage you to broach this situation with your attorney. You need to have an answer to how to act if and when you get upset during the trial, before you take the stand. That’s part of good trial preparation.
Part of having a good case is making sure you can manage your client’s presentation. Today, I had an opposing party yell at me right in the middle of the courtroom, in front of the Guardian ad Litem. I guarantee that when we get to trial, and she tries to paint herself as the level headed mom who deserves sole custody of the child, I will use her outburst today to my advantage. Make sure the opposing counsels in your cases aren’t afforded those same kinds of opportunities.
Kristin K. Zurek is an Associate Attorney and Litigation Manager in the Cordell & Cordell, P.C. office in St. Louis, Missouri. She has dedicated her practice exclusively to domestic litigation. Ms. Zurek is licensed to practice law in the state of Missouri.
Ms. Zurek began her career as a law clerk in a family law practice while attending law school. She has worked on many family law matters, helping clients to navigate the complex legal system and to successfully restructure their families while serving to advocate for her client’s best interests.
Read more about Ms. Zurek.