Many people are surprised to learn that despite their off-putting, anachronistic way of walking around in long black robes, our nation’s jurists are basically just regular human beings.
How can ambitious lawyers use this fact to their advantage? As regular human beings, judges get a kick out of being flattered. Give them a kind word, pleasure them with some thoughtful gesture, and you’ll put a smile on their face, add a bit of lift to their judicial stride—and maybe get the ruling you deserve.
I already sense an objection. As a practicing lawyer yourself, you probably don’t care about putting a smile on a judge’s face. You’d rather make the judge feel just as miserable as you do, now that thirteen months have passed without a ruling on your latest slam-dunk motion. When you think of the judge’s stride, you’re not hoping to give it some extra lift, you’re hoping to surreptitiously impede it so that the judge trips and suffers a crippling blow to his head. It’s the only way to get your case transferred to someone who really cares.
What do I recommend? That’s where the flattery comes in!
Flattering Judges: The First Baby Steps
Should your career as a judicial flatterer begin in open court? Not unless you don’t mind falling flat on your face—and perhaps ending your legal career prematurely, before you’ve even had a chance to rev it up.
Though some wizened old curmudgeons sometimes risk flattery in the courtroom, e.g., “Good question, your Honor!,” remember you’re just a novice. Here’s what would happen if you tried it. Deciding that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is probably bored of hearing “May it please the Court” at the beginning of every argument, you’d go with “It looks like you’ve lost weight, Judge Kozinski!”
Bad move. Just like that, you’ve probably lost your case. While Judge Kozinski would undoubtedly welcome the compliment, what about the other two judges on the panel? You’ve implied either that they look fat or that you can’t recall their names. Either way, they’ll remember you darkly when they’re asking their law clerks how they should rule.
Leave the courtroom flattery to the true professionals. Limit your own first attempts to less risky venues—the gas station, the grocery store, or the bar.
Flattering Judges at the Bar
There’s a judge right now, sitting at the end of the bar, looking into his whiskey glass with a sad expression.
It’s not because he’s a well-known bore. Nor is it because there’s a bit of toilet paper stuck to his shoe. The answer is simpler than this. Though he came here to relax, maybe even to “cut loose” for awhile, his reputation as an impatient crank has followed him from the courtroom to the bar. Although the other bar patrons would like to give him the benefit of the doubt, they’re simply too intimidated to approach.
Maybe you’re intimidated too. In your quest to flatter judges, you’ll have to put any such dark thoughts out of your mind. Acting as though you feel perfectly at home, which won’t be difficult since you’re a lawyer who’s wandering around a bar, sit down next to the judge and ask him what he’s drinking.
Aim to keep the conversation going. If the judge asks you a question, answer it, even if you’re still feeling intimidated. If the judge tells a joke, respond with a gracious chuckle, even in cases where you think this might encourage a second one.
Do you see what’s happening? Though only two or three minutes have passed, you’ve already made the judge’s day. It’s time to take your flattery to the next level. Lowering your voice, tell the judge you’re surprised to see him in a bar, given his reputation for being such a hard worker.
This is flattery at its most complex, as its effectiveness bears an inverse relation to the truth of your assertion. If the judge isn’t a hard worker, in other words, he’ll enjoy your flattery all the more. Following my logic where it leads, it means that at this point in your conversation, most judges will be enjoying your flattery immensely.
What’s the next step? I’ll answer that question in the next part of my two-part guide, when I’ll consider whether it’s now time to give the judge an expensive gift.
UPDATE: And here's Part 2.
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