Appellate Argument Techniques

Last week, I argued an appeal in a truck accident case. I was in the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, which is our state’s intermediate appellate court. My case was fourth in line on the day’s docket. That meant I got to (was forced to) sit through the argument on the cases ahead of mine.

The other arguments ran the gamut from abominable to excellent and featured a range of attorneys from young lawyers to experienced appellate advocates.

One thing I saw some of these other lawyers do was to address the questioning judges by name. For example, “Great question, Judge Hollander.” Actually, my example violates two rules of appellate argument. Never tell a judge they asked a great question. Presumably, they also thought it was a good question, or they would have remained silent.

But my real beef here is that I think it is never appropriate to call a judge by name in a courtroom. My practice is to refer to all members of the court as “Your Honor” if we are in a setting where I am being a lawyer and they are being a judge. To do otherwise seems disrespectful, and could be taken as implying a personal relationship that does not exist.

When I ran into a member of my appellate panel in the lobby prior to the start of the docket, I found “Good morning, Judge Pierson” totally appropriate. When I am in a courtroom and he is on the bench, that is “Good morning, Your Honor.”

I happen to know the most recent past clerk for one of the judges on my panel. Afterwards, I emailed her about this issue. She actually said she even called her judge “Your Honor” in chambers.

Maybe I am wrong about this, but I don’t think so. At a minimum, sticking with the formal “Your Honor” will never get me in trouble. And it is also great if you are bad with names.