The Young Lawyers Section hosted its first Approach the Bench CLE last Wednesday, June 17th, with Judge Stephen Higginson of the United States Court of Appeal 5th Circuit. We had a full house in the En Banc Courtroom and Judge Higginson explained how he conducts his courtroom and what his suggestions are to lawyers.
He started by giving a brief history of his experience as a lawyer and how eventually he became one of the resident judges. The United States Court of Appeals 5th Circuit is the largest court other than the 9th circuit and felt that the En Banc court is more robust than others.The first piece of advice given to him was to just lawyer the case and 99% of the questions will work itself out and you don't need to judge. Judge Higginson said that the biggest surprises since being elected judge was the quality of law clerks, in that their "resources are stunning," the amount of activity that occurs internally with the En Banc check in, and the instantaneity of the decision made with the judges. He advised to beware of last minute filings since they make quick decisions. He addressed the importance of oral arguments. It forces him to formally prepare and dignify the case, it is the first time seeing colleagues minds at work, and stressed there is a vast difference in how they review and handle the case. He brought up what he calls the "yellow light moment," which he went on to explain by saying to not forget to say the most important things before it is too late because it is what you leave the judge with. You don't want to walk out feeling like you didn't say everything you needed and/or wanted to. Another piece of advice in terms of what is most effective in encapsulating what the case is about is good writing and cleanliness, accuracy of references, and the punch at the start without coming off disrespectful . Some of Judge Higginson's last words were advising lawyers to take notes on what the opponent is saying to help yourself stay organized and what some of the "danger" words are.
Judge Higginson gave a very informative Approach the Bench CLE and the attendees left feeling more knowledgeable about the process.