On Friday, I made my first in-court argument as an attorney, defending a tenant in an eviction. This was an actual case filed with the court and the judge ruled in my favor after admittedly brief argument with a pro se plaintiff on the other side.
I had a dispositive motion before the court, but as it was a landlord/tenant case, I was prepared to go to trial if the judge rejected the motion. Thanks to the insistence of my girlfriend, I practiced arguing my motion at least ten times the night before. In the landlord/tenant cases before mine on Friday, the judge kept asking if the plaintiffs had provided the notice that was the focus of my motion. So, before I argued my motion, I was confident the judge would respond to my argument. With that confidence, and the repetitive practice, I was pretty relaxed in front of the judge and able to articulate my point succinctly.
Looking back on the experience, I realized two things. First, I don’t clearly remember exactly what I said when I was speaking to the judge. The memory is like a car accident – kind of hazy flashes without a coherent feeling of a narrative. I wonder if this is because of the amount of adrenaline coursing through my veins. Do other litigators feel this way after an argument?
Second, the pro se plaintiff probably had no idea why his claim was rejected. My argument was that the notice was a “condition precedent” to the eviction action. The judge interpreted this as a “jurisdictional” requirement. I think the pro se plaintiff probably thought that I won my argument using magic words, a phrase currently decried in legal academia. I wonder if either the judge or I, as the opposing lawyer, had a duty to make the proceedings more understandable for the pro se plaintiff?