The Human Element in Judging: Managing Expectations in the Courtroom

May 1, 2024by Jeffrey Davis

In the realm of law, we often idealize judges as paragons of impartiality and stoicism, champions of the law who rise above the fray of human emotion and bias. However, the reality can sometimes paint a different picture. Judges, like any other professionals, are human, and their personal inclinations and temperaments can sometimes influence their decision-making. This candid exploration into the judiciary aims to provide potential litigants with a realistic perspective on what to expect and how to prepare for the human element of the legal process.

Understanding the Human Side of Judges

Judges come to the bench with a lifetime of experiences, beliefs, and emotions that don’t simply vanish under their robes. They are subject to the same psychological biases and emotional reactions as anyone else. In some cases, this can manifest in what might appear as ego-driven decisions or a departure from procedural norms, which can be frustrating and perplexing for those expecting a purely rational legal system.

Why It Matters

For litigants, understanding the human nature of judges is crucial because it frames the courtroom not just as a place of law but also as a stage for human interaction and persuasion. It underscores the importance of strategic legal thinking that considers not only the letter of the law but also the personality of the person interpreting it.

  1. Expect Variability: The first step in managing expectations is to accept that variability exists from one courtroom to another. Just as judges can differ greatly in their interpretations and rulings, their thresholds for patience and decorum can also vary.
  2. Preparation is Key: Knowing the judge’s background, prior rulings, and even their reputation among peers can provide invaluable insights. This knowledge can guide the preparation of legal arguments tailored to resonate more effectively with a particular judge’s known preferences or legal philosophy.
  3. Emotional Intelligence: Legal representation should go beyond mere legal expertise. Attorneys must also possess a high degree of emotional intelligence to read the room, understand the judge’s reactions in real-time, and adjust their approach accordingly.
  4. Professionalism Always Wins: Regardless of the personal feelings a judge might display, maintaining a high level of professionalism is paramount. This includes showing respect for the court, adhering strictly to courtroom decorum, and keeping arguments concise and respectful.

How to Manage Expectations

Managing expectations isn’t about lowering them; it’s about aligning them with reality. Litigants should be prepared for a judicial system that is inherently human:

  • Educate Yourself: Understand that the legal system, while structured, is not immune to human flaws. This knowledge can temper expectations and foster a more strategic approach to litigation.
  • Choose Your Battles Wisely: Knowing that a judge may have biases, choose your legal battles wisely. Focus on arguments that are most likely to succeed given the judge’s known leanings and previous rulings.
  • Seek Experienced Counsel: An experienced attorney can be a navigator through the unpredictable waters of individual judicial personalities. Their experience in different courts and with various judges can be a critical asset.

The judiciary, despite its formal veneer, is not immune to the complexities of human behavior. I know this all too well from 16 years of litigation experience as of the date of this article. For potential litigants, recognizing this fact is not just about bracing for unpredictability—it’s about actively preparing for it. By understanding the personal dimensions that can influence judicial decision-making, litigants and their attorneys can better strategize and increase their chances of a favorable outcome. Remember, the law isn’t just about statutes and precedents; it’s also about people.