Counsel table or podium?

courtroomThis may seem insignificant. If so, forgive me. But, I have a question addressed to experienced trial lawyers who try cases to juries.

If you had your druthers, would you sit at counsel table or use a podium to question a witness?

Let me know and tell me why. Young’uns who want to try cases to juries need to know.  So, I hope the old hands fire away and share their views on this seemingly small matter.

RGK

65 responses

  1. counsel table. Podium seems too confrontational. Jurors hate confrontation which originates with the lawyer.

  2. Counsel table. That’s my space. The podium is not. Counsel table has more room, so that I can have materials ready to hand and not have to go from podium to table to pick something up. (I practice mainly in state court, where we don’t have electronic courtrooms.) I also walk around, especially on cross-examination; if a cross is going really well, I’ll be stalking back and forth across the whole courtroom. (I walk when I talk. I stop when the witness is speaking.)

    When I am before a judge who wants us to stand at the podium, I find that I can get more room to operate by starting, on the first day, to make sure that one finger is at least on the edge of the surface; I’ve never had the court object to that and that gives me at least five or six feet of floor space. By the end of the second day, I can usually get a little further away. I don’t push it, but as the trial goes on, I can get enough space so that I don’t feel like I’m in a box. And, of course, I would never object to my sister or brother leaving the podium (unless they want to use showing a document to the witness as an excuse to invade the witness’ personal space).

  3. At podium. In state court where I practice, the courtrooms do not afford sufficient space to stand up. I find, when able, the advantage is that standing puts me closer to eye level with a witness. While seated I feel literally confined. And while there are times there may be advantage in sitting for an examination I prefer standing. I should add that the distinct advantage of being stuck at counsel table is that few podiums are designed to accommodate the tools we use in the courtroom–big notebooks and the backup information we need (depositions and the like). That means constantly having to go back and forth. Given my fidgety nature, that is something I welcome but would be problematic for the more OCD types among us.

  4. I have always given lawyers their choice, and I add a few to the list of counsel table or podium. This is a terrific question.

  5. I write only to say that what you refer to as a podium is more properly called a lectern. A podium is something you stand on, basically a small stage, while a lectern is something you read or speak from. Just sayin’.

  6. Standing at the table. If you give me room to roam, I’ll turn into Barry Sanders. In no time, you’ll find me in the gallery or next to the court reporter. At times, I make sure to keep my right foot on bottom of the thing, whether it be lectern or podium. Otherwise, ol’ number 20 might break free.

    Whether I have access to the materials is never the issue. Long ago, a wise old lawyer taught me that if I didn’t know the stuff by the time the jury settled in, I didn’t know enough. His theory was that the most important function of a trial lawyer is to pay attention to what’s happening with everyone in the courtroom.

    Very wise advice.

  7. Generally, lecturn, as I want the jury’s complete attention when I examine, and given that I’m always at the far table from the jury, I don’t want them to be unable to hear. There are times, for tactical reasons, when I might want the examination to be more subdued, less threatening, and then I prefer counsel table. So I would prefer the choice.

  8. I’ve had six jury trials and about 60 bench trials in the Nebraska Workers Compensation Court and I would prefer to sit for two reasons:

    1. As mentioned earlier, it’s easier to organize your materials at a counsel table. If you are an aspiring plaintiff’s civil attorney your materials are your exhibits. In workplace litigation, exhibits are used to control the examination of opposing parties. I would assume this is true for most litigation period.

    2. Sitting puts the focus on the witness rather than the lawyer. You want the finder of fact to pay attention to the witness, not you.

    Cases are primarily won in the office rather than in court. Unless you have standing desk, most litigators do most of their work sitting. Most examinations of witnesses in civil litigation are conducted by depositions. Depositions are almost always conducted in sitting down in conference rooms, offices, jury rooms and even break rooms. I know Judge Kopf is enamored with the beauty of federal court rooms. But my experience in 9 1/2 years of civil litigation, I have made my best results in pedestrian venues like conference rooms of a Holiday Inn Express where you can smell the chlorine from the indoor pool. My best result in a workers compensation trial was a case I tried in the breakroom in the basement of the Otoe County Courthouse. All of those times I was sitting, so I guess sitting is just my preference.

    Any prospective civil litigator should get to know a good physical therapist as sitting is not good your back.

  9. shg,

    Your advice is exactly what I told kids in trial ad. Too many times young lawyers sit instead of stand ’cause their scared. Understandable, sure. But not an excuse.

    It is not about them. It is not about them. It is not about them. Whether to sit or stand is an important tactical decision that must be made with the client’s interest in mind.

    All the best.

    RGK

  10. Lecturn – I feel more comfortable there and you don’t have a client tugging on your sleeve giving advice while trying to cross examine.

  11. Jon, you get to sit and speak in a courtroom? I see that on TV sometimes, but where I practice, you’d get roasted by the court if you tried to do it. Even if I am simply saying, “Objection,” I rise as I do so. Although I have done administrative hearings in which I have examined witnesses while seated at a table (and, of course, do that in depositions), I would have trouble staying seated while examining in a courtroom.

  12. With the utmost respect to a learned jurist who writes well from one who has been admitted to the bar for 44 years. The podium is a raised platform upon which one stands, while the item in your photograph is a lectern. Yes, modern usage has blurred the distinction, but one would expect a man of your age and erudition to observe the niceties of the English language.

  13. Dear High Plains Lawyer,

    As the trial judge, and in another state where all the local federal judges were recused, I observed you in a very high profile civil case. You commanded attention at the lectern. That was particularly so when you crossed a sitting federal judge who was the focal point of the trial.

    It was critical for you to establish that in this case and that courtroom the judge was no longer a judge but a witness under your complete control. The jurors later told me that your cross of the judge was extremely effective even though the jury ultimately came down in a way that was not to your liking. The jurors liked and respected you a lot (the judge not so much) and I think that was because of your commanding presence, complete knowledge of the facts and your aggressive and firm but completely fair cross examination (ethical appeal). Using the lectern punctuated that command presence.

    All the best.

    RGK

    PS You moved smoothly back and forth from the lectern to counsel table to acquire materials when you needed them, so that was no problem at all.

  14. I think there are two valuable frames of reference — how position affects the attorney, and how it may affect the perception of others in the courtroom. For me, both suggest that standing (though not necessarily at the lectern) is better.

    Regarding the perception of others, in my former life as a public high school teacher, it would have been unthinkable to lead a class (whether a formal lecture or a more collaborative activity) from a seated position — especially from behind my desk. Remaining standing was one nonverbal tool for what was colloquially called “classroom management,” but really meant maintaining attention and discipline.

    While I am usually suspicious about relying too much on the soft science of jury analysis, my experience managing 17 year olds tells me that standing conveys leadership, authority, and knowledge. While a lawyer’s actions and statements may undermine these nonverbal messages, it’s always nice to start with a presumption of competency and authority from your jury.

    For my internal reasons, I have always felt as though remaining seated does not give me the physical sense of leadership in the courtroom that enhances my feeling of confidence and leadership. I think this comes from my first days as a lawyer, when I found I could combat any nagging feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt through the “fake it ’till you make it” approach, meaning I would use my clothing, courtroom, demeanor, etc. to send a message of professionalism and confidence even when I was filled with butterflies. Over time, those practices became habits.

    It probably also merits mentioning that I was lucky enough to get some early courtroom experience in a federal court where standing to address the court and taking the lectern to address the witness was mandatory. So doing so continues to feel “normal” to me.

  15. Thomas,

    You are the second person to point out that I am a barbarian. I am sorry for my mistake, truly. All the best.

    RGK

  16. Korey,

    That is particularly important–avoiding the client’s tugging–for excellent, but empathetic, criminal lawyers like you. You refuse to tell them to STFU.

    All the best.

    RGK

  17. What about letting the lawyers wander about the courtroom like Bill Fallon, or moving your chair around the courtroom like Skip Delacy? All this restraint on movement of counsel must violate some part of the Constitution. Recall before lectern Judge Denney made us sit, but memory may be slipping. Not relevant I know.

  18. Judge Do not yield to dreary pedantry, English is a living language. In NE we have been calling it a podium for more than 50 years,

  19. repenting lawyer,

    I allow lawyers to sit at counsel table or stand at the lectern when questioning a witness as they like, assuming I am using Courtroom 1 in Lincoln or any of the Article III courtrooms in Omaha. Smaller courtrooms, say Courtroom 2 in Lincoln, don’t work with a lectern.

    I don’t allow lawyers to wander about the courtroom whether they use the lectern or sit at counsel table. In that regard, I am very strict. Because I only use digital audio, and never a court reporter, it is important that lawyers not walk about the courtroom. More fundamentally, I am German, and I just don’t like the idea of a lawyer striding about the courtroom at will.

    I only had one jury trial with Judge D. It was in North Platte. He made us sit when examining a witness. By the way, and to save money, this year we gave up our courtroom and chambers in North Platte. We will “borrow” the Lincoln County District Courtroom if we need try a case out there.

    All the best.

    RGK

  20. Lectern — it’s called “thinking on your feet” for a reason. At trial, a lawyer should typically have a concise examination outline that identifies the materials to be introduced and the points to make, so a large amount of material usually shouldn’t be necessary. The best trial lawyer I’ve ever seen used only cryptic shorthand notes on a single sheet of paper folded lengthwise.

  21. Nathan,

    You, and others, make an important point. You must have a complete grasp of the facts, and you must know exactly where you are going with the witness. If you are prepared in that manner, you have no need to worry about sitting at counsel table so you can rummage through the tons of crap that sit thereon.

    All the best.

    RGK

  22. I also prefer the lectern for many of the reasons stated above. After nearly 40 jury trials and several arguments with the federal appellate court, I have found that it commands the most direct juror’s attention and puts me more on a level plain with the witness. I also agree that it is most effective when you are not scrambling for paperwork or notes while questioning – if you do not know your material by then you have no business in the courtroom.

  23. Judge, I would have to amend my earlier comment about stalking about the courtroom. Obviously, making and preserving the record is paramount, and I would not move around if it would defeat that. However, I am horrified at the idea of having only an audio recording for a record. For trials, and even hearings, we hire a stenographer (cost always split between the parties in my experience), because the Commonwealth of Massachusetts no longer provides one. There are enough problems with stenographic transcripts–audio recordings are likely to increase the level of error by an order of magnitude.

  24. Having used both, I can’t say I have a “preference”. However, during most of my career I’ve tried cases in rural courthouses and many (probably most) didn’t even have a lecturn, so the table was my home base. I’ve seen attorneys who appeared to be lost without a lecturn. I saw one well-known plaintiff’s opposing counsel in western Nebraska “construct” a podium at his counsel desk using a banker’s box so he could stand up at the table and feel like he was at a lecturn. When I had access to a lecturn I often preferred to use it during opening and closing to the jury. I put it out in front of them and kind of used it as a “dock” where I had my notes, if needed, yet I could wander to and from it as needed to use exhibits, go to my chart (old technology) if I was using one, go retrieve exhibits from the court reporter’s table, etc. A lecturn serves as kind of a focal point for me – keeps me on task. I have also used a lecturn during particularly difficult examinations, such as an expert whom I know will try to take over – standing at a lecturn gives me more of a command presence and a feeling that I’m on your level buster,so don’t get too high and mighty. At counsel table, yes, it is convenient to have access to notes, exhibits, deposition summaries, etc., but if you are not organized the shuffle of looking for something “lost” on a table can be very distracting and is surely aggravating to a jury if it is time consuming. I have often stood at counsel table for a time, for instance, if I have just returned from the witness box where I was examining a witness with an exhibit or giving them an exhibit. Sometimes that simple act changes the perspective of the examination for me and the witness and maybe the jury, too. One thing that bugs the hell out of me is the clicking and ticking of some laptops – (maybe they are improved now) – during my examination. I had a tussle with one opposing attorney who insisted on leaning back in his chair to make it squeak loudly at inopportune times during my examination of his client. He claimed innocence, but I prevailed and the judge told him to sit still. 🙂 Another little tip – when you approach the bench for a bench conference, do NOT hang all over bench like you are visiting over the neighbor’s fence. IT is sloppy looking and sends a message to the jury that you are invading the judge’s space and not respecting her/his authority in the courtroom -just one of the professional tips learned from a most wise senior partner during my first year of practice.

  25. Jon,

    We are using very sophisticated digital audio recording that is constantly monitored. Our court was a part of a federal pilot project which resulted in approval nationwide of digital audio recording instead of court reporters. I won’t bore you with the data, but it is clear that this type of record making is at least as accurate as a record made by a court reporter. There are many other benefits, including the fact that after trial each day the digital audio record is uploaded to CM/ECF and available to the world. For more on this, see Lighting the fuse: It is time to get rid of court reporters in the federal courts.

    All the best.

    RGK

  26. The biggest problems I have seen is people talking over one another, and the spelling of names (and words, particularly technical terms). How does audio–as sophisticated as it may be–substitute for the stenographer coming over at the break and asking, “How does Ms. _____ spell her name?”

  27. I prefer counsel table. A podium can draw the jury’s attention away from the witness and onto the lawyer. I like the jury to be focused on the witness.

    Ray Rigat

  28. Jon,

    As I said, digital audio is monitored constantly by a person with head phones connected to the computer that is making the digital audio record. The person who does this is called a CRD. The CRD does lots of other things–in the federal system where a court reporter is used we have both the reporter and the CRD in the courtroom. Where no court reporter is present in the federal system, the CRD makes log notes of spelling and the like that are input into the computer for use by the ultimate transcriber.

    I have written about the utility of digital audio recording in a variety of outlets. The New York Times solicited this one, Digital Court Recordings Create an Accessible Record. The Times got interested after a court reporter who was a drunk left behind an incomplete record of at least six trials and two dozen other proceedings. See here.

    All the best.

    RGK

  29. I’d like to provide another perspective. Up here in Canada it would be completely inappropriate and I’d say disrespectful to the Court to question a witness while seated. The only time I’ve ever seen counsel sitting to conduct their examination-in-chief or cross examination is because they had a physical injury or disability that prevented them from standing. In the case of the former, permission was sought by counsel to allow them to sit. I once went to a civil discovery and as a criminal barrister I felt completely uncomfortable asking questions of the witness while seated. I would liken that feeling to taking a shower while fully clothed.

  30. I’m with shg. Lecturn, unless for tactical reasons the table is preferred. Preferably as close to the jury as I can move it.

  31. Counsel table (or on gallery side of jury box, if the two are not close), so that I am forced to prject, and the witness is forced to look at the jury in ordert to look at me.

  32. I think it is correct that I’ve had a choice of lectern or counsel table at every jury trial, state or federal court, I’ve had. Generally and usually, I will question from the lectern. The reason is that it strikes me as making it easier for the jury to follow the questions and answers. I suppose it’s true, as some other comments have noted, that standing at the lectern calls more attention to the lawyer. That strikes me as appropriate too; part of a trial lawyer’s job is showing the jury that he or she knows what they are doing. But sometimes I question from counsel table, because it feels right for that particular witness or situation.

  33. AP,

    Thanks very much for your perspective. I appreciate that you took time to write.

    I am struck by how much our legal cultures impact what we do in courtrooms. Sometimes that is good and sometimes that is bad. We should always be willing to question why we do things the way we do. On the other hand, we ought not buck our cultural traditions for the hell of it.

    All the best.

    RGK

  34. 1stclerk,

    If you sit close to the jury, do not pick your nose. I mean it.

    There is risk sitting close to the jury. As long as you are aware of the risk, and beat it into the thick skull of your client, I don’t question your preference. But, don’t pick your nose.

    All the best.

    RGK

  35. repenting lawyer,

    Interesting point. Regarding the word “podium,” the Oxford English Dictionary (the internet version) seems to suggest that in North America a “podium” and a “lectern” are considered one and the same–that is: “Also in extended use (N. Amer.): a lectern . . . .” (entry 2a.).

    Anyway, thanks for the defense. All the best.

    RGK

  36. Judge–

    If given the choice, always the lectern. It causes the witness to focus more intently on me, and me to focus more intently on the witness (where I practice, the lectern is generally closer to the witness stand than is the counsel table). Also, standing sends a signal that I have respect for the court, including the jurors. I believe such things matter to jurors who aren’t regularly in a courtroom and who have been dragged from their lives to serve as jurors.

    DRF

  37. Da Man, Claimed advantage of strolling was you could get witness to look away on cross. Prior generation of lawyers were believers. Saw my Dad do it a couple of times.

  38. I always try to get the witness on cross to look away from the jury. That’s one reason why, if I can get away with it, I walk back and forth across the courtroom. If there’s a lectern (or podium, if you prefer) at the end of the jury box (which is where it usually is in state court here), I stand on the side of it closest to the jurors when I’m doing direct, and move over to the other side when doing cross. I figure that even a small angle could make a difference.

    I had one case where the defendant was a very prominent lawyer. (The trial was held in the courtroom where Sacco and Vanzetti were railroaded.) There was no lectern. I stood at the end of counsel table away from the jury. The lawyer/defendant stood in the witness box (it’s an old courtroom; I don’t really remember if there was a chair for witnesses). He would face me as I asked the question, but then he would pivot 90 degrees to the jury for each answer. I thought it was stagy, but it worked.

  39. To be clear, I was talking about direct examination, which I’ve had occasion to conduct much more often than cross. (I’ll leave you to speculate as to what that makes me.)

  40. In about 100 civil jury trials, I have always used the lectern unless I had only about 3 questions for a witness and require no notes; then I stand at counsel table. I might do this on re-cross, for example.

    I like to stand at the lectern for several reasons. First, I think standing improves voice quality (why do opera singers usually stand while singing?). Second, standing is a stress reliever–the movement of getting to the lectern, and the ability to use body movement (hands as well as the whole body) more effectively than when sitting. This also helps maintain interest among jurors; I think jurors want to watch as well as listen, and sitting at counsel table brings no visual impact to the exam. Third, I want to be the focus of attention–my questions are more important than the answers–despite the law saying that questions are not evidence. Fourth, I agree with my longtime partner’s somewhat sardonic view that trials are theater. Finally, I consider standing a show of respect to everyone in the courtroom.

    If I ever question a witness while seated at counsel table, it would be for a specific, considered reason designed to benefit my client’s case. I can’t remember an example, but it might be a way of signaling to the jury that I don’t consider what the witness has to say important.

  41. Judge Kopf:

    From my experience as a retired federal prosecutor, definitely the lecturn for the following reasons:

    1. No matter the size of the courtroom you want the jurors attention on you and the questions being asked.

    2. Sitting you blend in with the spectators behind you and the jury may lose contact with you, as well as see the questioning as being not that important as you are sitting. Most jurors have seen lawyers standing on TV or in movies, does sitting send a negative note to them?

    3. In todays electronic federal courtroom using all the electronic media toys to present evidence standing still seems to work out better to control the computer stand in front of you or along side the lecturn. If you are still using the overhead projector standing always works better.

    4. Sitting and then having to get up and approach a witness to show a piece of evidence or transcript would seem awkward in front of the jury each time.

    5. I do agree with another commentator that the lecturns could be wider to accomodate a notebook, laptop computer, and notes.

    6. Why would you want to cross examine a witness sitting? By sitting during cross I think you would loose the importance of that cross and the interaction with the witness.

  42. John,

    You make an important point about the physical benefits of standing. For younger lawyers scared out of their minds, the more muscle movement that takes place the more likely it is that stress will lessen with increased movement.

    If you must sit, try the trick of putting your feet flat on the floor and pressing as hard as you can for 30 seconds or so. Some lawyers even clench their butts for 30 seconds following the multitude of fitness experts who write glowingly about this activity (really!).

    Finally, there are various breathing exercises that can be done quickly and quietly right before you began an examination, whether you sit or stand. Here is Dr. Weil, look particularly at exercise 2.

    Thanks for taking the time to write.

    RGK

  43. I would rather have the freedom to get up from time to time to question the witnesses standing from counsel table, at a podium or near the witness chair (especially when handling exhibits). Having to ask leave to approach is cumbersome and slows the pace of the trial. Allowing the lawyers some latitude breaks the monotony of a trial and keeps the parties awake.

  44. I suspect idea of different positions, particularly to make the witness look away on cross comes from Wellman, still in print.

  45. It varies. All court is, among other things, a form of theater with the courtroom as a stage. In a jury trial, the jury is the audience. Is it cross-examination or direct? What’s the goal with this witness? With this question? Do I want the jury focused on me or on the witness? Do I want to seem aggressive and dominating or gentle and laid back, quietly coaxing this or that from the witness – or just letting her run on?

    Those are just a few of the questions, but they point to the answer which, like so much in the law, is “It depends.”

  46. I have been in practice for 40 years, mostly doing civil trials. As a general rule, I much prefer the podium. Questioning a witness from counsel table would generally leave me below the witness, looking up at her/him, which seems to be a weak position. Standing at the podium puts me on eye level. Also, sitting at the table seems to minimize the process, whereas standing, walking to the podium, draws attention to the fact that something is happenning. Lastly, already being on my feet, it is easier to approach the witness (where that is allowed) if I feel that would help me.

  47. Jeff,

    You raise an important point. It does depend.

    For example, I have seen multi-defendant criminal cases where defense counsel for a particular defendant almost recedes into the background. Quietly saying “pass the witness” for most of the snitches, while asking only a few questions of a critical witness in a strong but calm voice, and from the seated position, can be very effective, particularly where the other defense lawyers are playing Perry Mason from the lectern.

    All the best.

    RGK

  48. There seems to be a general assumption on this string that being at counsel table means being seated. Not in my experience, in Massachusetts and for a few trials in New York. We stand and examine from counsel table. As I’ve indicated earlier in this string, I can’t imagine examining in a courtroom while seated.

  49. Gary,

    Once I find that counsel are not going to abuse the opportunity or invade the personal space of the witness, I give counsel continuing leave to approach the witness without having to ask. All the best.

    RGK

  50. MOK,

    I understand exactly what you are talking about regarding small courtrooms in rural Nebraska. Talk about an “intimate” setting!

    I particularly hated those courtrooms were counsel for opposing sides had to share the same table. I couldn’t whisper nasty things to my partner about opposing counsel, and that frustrated the hell out of me.

    All the best.

    RGK

  51. LOL another way we just wouldn’t get along at all, Judge. I wander around the courtroom. Helps me think. I would say I can’t help it.

    I might be able to confine myself to pacing in a limited path, but I don’t even know if I would be able to follow an order to remain at the podium.

  52. I recollect table sharing as norm in old Lancaster County Courthouse, and there were still spittoons under counsel table.

  53. Jon M We Midwesterners are very informal though my wife who practiced in Mass before teaching makes me stand at the dinner table when I address her.Do any of your judges still stand when they charge the jury?

  54. In Scotts Bluff County District Court the smaller of the two courtrooms had a pillar in the well of the court that blocked one of the counsel tables from seeing and being seen by about half of the jury. There used to be a race for the table the first day of trial to get the table with a full view. Then, as I recall Judge Hippe started having the parties change tables at the noon recess or on alternating days to end the infighting for position. Up in Hooker County NE I had a jury trial where one counsel table was about half the size of the other – another fight for position, but I relented and took the smaller one anyhow – it was closer to the jury and my people were the local folks. The real problem at that trial was having long enough extension cords to reach the limited plug-ins (I swear there was only one or two!) to power up a TV for video depositions. Ah yes, war stories to tell . . . .

  55. I heard a story somewhere from someone who remembers those spittoons, too. Seems there was a crusty old lawyer who approached the bench to ask for a recess to “spit” and the judge thought he said something else that rhymed with spit. I understand the recess was granted. 🙂

  56. Roaming the well like a hungry plains animal. Preferably standing right next to the jury box on direct. The uniform district court rules require us to sit during examination, but I’ll be darned if my knee or back always seems to act up requiring me to stand for relief from the excruciating pain during trial.

    Plus, you can’t show off for the crowd (May or may not be friends I’ve subpoenaed to come watch) if you’re sitting.

  57. Bruner,

    You probably tell them you were hurt while catching Joba Chamberlain. While it is true that you caught Joba, the only “injury” you suffered was to the palm of your left hand from one of his fastballs. You cried like a baby. Just sayin’.

    Come see me sometime. All the best,

    RGK

  58. Sorry I’m so late to the party. Like Billy Martin, I feel strongly both ways, and concur with Jeff G.: Everything you do in a courtroom should have a purpose.

  59. I worked with a chap who jumped on every opportunity to make the lectern, podium correction. To paraphrase him, one stands on a podium but stands behind a lectern. I thought this need to chastise made him appear to be an A hole. He wasn’t but it made him sound like one.

  60. Apologies for the late response, but as an Australian barrister (what you would call a trial lawyer) I am always fascinated by the little differences between practice in our courts and American courts.

    In pretty much all jurisdictions in Australia counsel are required to remain at the bar table (what you call ‘counsel table’) at all times and can only leave it with leave of the court, which I have rarely seen granted. It is generally considered unprofessional conduct for counsel to leave the bar table, and is considered particularly serious if the bar table is unattended while the judicial officer is on the bench.

    Courts will usually have an Officer (called an Orderly in some jurisdictions) with various duties, one of which is to carry documents from the bar table to the witness box (it’s not called a ‘stand’ here) or to the Associate (the judicial officer’s assistant, who will then hand the document onto the judicial officer). If there is no Officer/Orderly (such as in the lower courts), then the Associate will usually fulfill this role personally.

    It would also be very rare that counsel would approach the bench and discuss something privately with the judicial officer.

    Accordingly, it is only in exceptional circumstances that counsel would ever be given leave to move away from the bar table.

    As to the question of sitting, my comments echo AP’s Canadian experience. Standing is mandatory whenever counsel has something to say – save for medical necessity I know of no exceptions in courts. However, some administrative tribunals (such as the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal), which are set up as being extremely informal and friendly to unrepresented-litigants, require those sitting at the bar table to remain seated at all times. Most barristers I know (myself included) have found the experience of remaining seated throughout a trial to be extremely difficult.

    Mind you we still wear wigs in most courts, so I guess we can be a little resistant to change at times.

  61. Dear Sydney Barrister,

    Thank you for taking the time to write, and tell us of your protocols and traditions. I very much appreciate your taking the time to write. By the way, my son, his wife and two children are citizens of Australia. It is an ever smaller world.

    All the best.

    RGK

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