Page 10

Birmingham Bar Association Summer 2016

Special Interest Catherine “Ree” Reeves Glaze Humor in the Courtroom: An Attorney’s Guide to Inappropriate Laughter We have all heard tales of courtroom snafus and quips: some with positive reviews, others, not so much. A few oft-mentioned litigators have reached almost celebrity status through legacies of humorous (and sometimes unfortunate) mishaps, demonstrating that humor does in fact have a place in legal practice. While the humor in those stories is easy to appreciate in retrospect, today’s practitioner faces the dilemma of trying to recognize the appropriate time and place to successfully introduce humor into the courtroom. If there was only a formula for knowing when an audience will welcome your humor, our jobs would be at least a little easier! Woefully, we have all likely suffered through a “fall flat,” when our favorite and most reliable jokes fell on wrong ears. Beyond the anxiety over how a lighthearted comment might be accepted, judges and lawyers are also tasked with a professional duty to maintain a level of decorum that honors the sanctity of the legal system, not to mention the “minor” responsibility of protecting the interests of clients. According to both judges and lawyers with regard to proper etiquette for courtroom humor, you will see that these do not have to be competing concerns. In fact, humor can be used to your advantage in the courtroom or conference room. “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” -- Dwight D. Eisenhower Judges often rely on humor for putting people at ease. For parties, witnesses, and jurors, the courtroom is often an intimidating environment with which they have had little or no experience. The parties may feel the excitement of finally having their day in court coupled with fear of the process and outcome. Witnesses worry about what questions they might be asked, and jurors fear their duty will never end. Levity can go a long way when the judge can change the environment from one of tension to at least one of lessened discomfort. “I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful.” -- Bob Hope It is important to remember that there exists a fine line between introducing humor to a court proceeding and mistakenly portraying a lackadaisical attitude. In her domestic relations court, Judge Julie Palmer often pre-empts the crossing of that line by taking time to explain to court attendees that she and the lawyers may kid around with each other, but that they take the case very seriously. She also ensures that any joking in her courtroom is never directed toward the parties or the subject matter. Judge Palmer recalled the old adage that “the best jokes are told at 10 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Association Summer 2016
To see the actual publication please follow the link above