Last Friday, I was sitting in a courtroom, early for my case, when the judge called the two attorneys on the case before mine into his chambers. As the time passed, what interested me was the reaction of both of the clients that were left behind. Both clients were disturbed that they were left alone in the courtroom while their lawyers and the judge were “in the back.” Oftentimes, judges will ask the attorneys to come back to his or her chambers, or office, for a multitude of reasons. And I realized, that in an already stressful situation, not knowing what was going on was just another worry for the litigants.
On many occasions, the reason can be something as simple as the judge wanting to schedule something in the case and needs to look at the court calendar. For that matter, most attorneys will have more than one case in front of the same judge and they may wind up speaking about another case entirely for a brief period ( for example, “ by the way, have you been able to settle the Doe v. Doe case you were here on last week?” “ Not yet, judge, but I think we are close to a resolution.”). I was in a judge’s chambers several weeks ago, and it was nothing more than a scheduling conference as my adversary and I were trying to schedule a next day of trial. Between the two lawyers, we had five cases in front of the judge. It took quite a while to find a common day that both lawyers and the court was available!
The court may want to get a sense of what discovery it still outstanding and what a realistic time frame is for getting a case ready for trial. Other times, the judge wants to speak about an aspect of the case and ask the lawyers for their position on a legal issue, and may explore whether the issues should be the topic of further research. Priority of issues in a case may be a topic of conversation as well. Which issues are ones which will take a longer time at trial and which are not. Are there any issues in a case which may reasonably settle prior to trial? And speaking of settlement, the court may want to know how far apart the parties are to a settlement.
Some judges will become more involved than others when settlement is being discussed. Most issues have come in front of a judge before, and he or she knows that “range” a decision will be in. If one side is being completely unreasonable, the judge may be able to help the parties move towards a settlement. The judge may have some creative ideas for compromise that it wants to share with the attorneys. The court may want to give the attorneys his or her initial reaction in order to focus an argument.
My point is, there are many reasons why the judge may call the lawyers to chambers. Whatever the reason, it is not unusual for the lawyers to get into chambers, and the court’s staff has a pressing matter to speak to the court about, and the attorneys have to wait. In any event, the lawyer, should, upon coming back to the client be forthright about the topic of conversation, however mundane it may have been. It is just one of the ways an attorney should effectively communicate with the client.