I heard some great advice a few days ago in an unexpected place — a county jail. I was there for a bond hearing and preliminary hearing. And it was the typical scene. Inmates were everywhere. Law enforcement agents were lining the walls as they awaited their hearing. The DA was there with a huge box of the day’s files. All of this activity was confined to a large stale institutional room inside of the jail.
It was there that I ran into a lawyer I had not seen in a while. The lawyer was one of many that you will encounter in small Georgia towns who practices “door law,” or whatever case comes in the door. On that day, it happened to be a preliminary hearing in a criminal case. We spoke for a few minutes. I observed that he was seated in one of the few chairs available in the room. He told me that he had been there for a while. And then he started telling me a story.
He once had a conversation with another small town lawyer, whom he described as the “elder statesman” of the county. This lawyer was known for arriving, on the day of court, as soon as the door was opened. And he would occupy a familiar spot in the jury box where he would watch all who had business enter the courtroom. The elder statesman had once told my friend, “when people pay you to handle their case for them, they do not need for you to give them one moment of anxiety. When it is time for court, you should always be there before they arrive. That way, they never have to wonder where you are.”
I am seldom late for court. And many criminal court calendars are like the one I just described — such bedlam that the judge would probably not notice your tardiness. With that said, I often arrive somewhere between ten minutes before a hearing or right on time. And, as I thought back, I recall that there have been times when I’ve gotten seated and received a text from my office with something along the lines of “Did you make contact with the Smith family? They were looking for you.” This text will have been sent about 30 minutes before court. Of course, I wasn’t late, but I arrived later than the client.
I am doing to heed the advice of a “door lawyer” passed down to him by an elder statesman whose name he doesn’t remember and try reaching the courthouse before my client the next time we have court.