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View from the bench: how lawyers shall be judged

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Forget the TV depictions of lawyers who are eccentric, dishevelled or bombastic: if you want to impress a judge in Queensland you have follow certain rules of fashion and etiquette.

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In an effort to help members of the legal fraternity make a good impression, District Court Judge Dean P. Morzone, QC, and Magistrate Robert Spencer have given an extraordinary rundown of courtroom “do’s and don’ts”.

“Many conduct mistakes involve poor etiquette, mannerisms, tone, talking, dress, presentation and electronic devices being used in court,” Morzone and Spencer wrote in a recent, 16-page explanation of the rules as they see them.

“Good manners and proper courtroom conduct will impact the judge and their disposition to your case, or during the hearing itself.”

Solicitors and barristers should dress as the judge would dress and avoid bright colours and patterns that “can be distracting for the judge”. Short sleeve shirts or blouses, stringy or strapless tops and loose ties are a “definite no-no”. If robes are required at the bar table, they should be clean and properly fitted because “old and tattered robes do not display wisdom, but rather a shabby advocate”.

“Put simply, appropriate grooming will make you look and feel ‘the part’,” Morzone and Spencer wrote.

“Be clean, neat and tidy in your appearance and grooming. Expressions of ‘out of the ordinary’ individualism such as outlandish hairstyles, disheveled facial hair, eccentric makeup, bizarre piercings and exposed tattoos are less appreciated in the conservative setting of the court.”

The formal act of bowing to the judge, when entering a courtroom in session or when the judge first enters, cannot be taken lightly.

“It is neither amusing nor respectful to bow too low and deep or quick and shallow,” Morzone and Spencer wrote.

Once in the courtroom, lawyers and barristers must not “slouch, rock or lounge at the bar table”.

“There is nothing impressive about looking like the disinterested, lazy and recalcitrant kid in the classroom.”

There is to be no eating, drinking or chewing in court, although lawyers can ask for permission to use a throat lozenge if required. Mobile phones should be switched off and conversation kept to a bare minimum.

“Joking, sniggering, laughing, gesticulating, facial restrictions etc must be avoided at all cost. The judge can see and hear you!”

Morzone and Spencer make it clear lawyers should never be seen to be arguing with or criticising a judge, putting on a performance or delivering a Toast Masters speech.

“Self-review your oratory skills, for example: Are you too soft and quiet, or too loud? Are you talking too quickly? Or frustratingly slow? Or in a dull and boring monotone? Are you too melodic (you are not in an opera)? Or do you have appropriate fluctuation? Do you pause enough and at the right places? Are you pronouncing words correctly and clearly? Are you too ‘whingy whiny’?”

While the paramount duty solicitors and barristers have is to the administration of justice, how they go about it may influence the outcomes for their clients. Other problem areas, according to Morzone and Spencer, are not being punctual, prepared, using the correct phraseology and pronunciation, or “foolishly” double-booking courtrooms.

The fictional Sydney barrister Cleaver Greene, from the ABC series Rake, may not have lasted long in Queensland.

From the client’s point of view, most complaints about solicitors and barristers, according to the latest Legal Services Commission annual report, centre on the quality of service, costs, general ethical conduct and poor communication.

However, some lawyers have had to show cause why they should not lose the right to practice after engaging in behaviour ranging from personal bankruptcies to criminal offences such as assault.

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