From the Multnomah Lawyer: Ask the Expert - Avoiding Rookie Mistakes

Dear Expert,
I’ve been assigned to handle an issue in a case that no one in my firm has dealt with before. I’m excited about the increased responsibility and opportunity to appear in court, but I’m not sure if I need to file a motion, what type of motion to file, or if I can just appear at ex parte. I don’t want to make a rookie mistake, what do I do?

It can be daunting to be assigned to handle a legal issue you’re unfamiliar with, especially if it’s an issue that others in your firm aren’t exactly sure how to deal with either. The best way to prepare is to do your research beforehand and consider it an opportunity to become your firm’s resident expert on this issue. Don’t just show up to ex parte and hope for the best. Instead, the best way to avoid making an obvious mistake and looking unprofessional is to take the time to research and follow the proper procedures.

First, read the rules. This should go without saying, but checking the ORCP, UTCR, and SLR should be your first step when you have a question regarding motion practice and court procedure. You might find that the answer to your question is already spelled out in the rules. If it isn’t, see if you can at least narrow down your inquiry. Can you appear at ex parte for this issue? Do you need to file a motion? What type of conferral or notice requirements must you follow? Odds are, the rules will at least point you in the right direction. Even if you’re making a more routine court appearance, always check the SLR for the county you’re appearing in, it’s easy to forget that different counties have different rules about appearances, especially ex parte. Also, check the court’s website. You may find that rules for motion practice for particular divisions (family, civil, criminal, etc.), and other guidelines are posted there.

Next, check resources like treatises, practice manuals, and BarBooks. These might help you with the nuts and bolts of your motion, how to ask for the type of relief you are seeking, and direct you toward case law that supports your position. Don’t overlook the forms in these resources (or in the UTCR and SLR); these can help you figure out how to format your motion and what factual and legal support you will need to include.

If you’ve checked the rules and resources but you still have questions, consider calling a clerk. If you are assigned to a particular judge, call the judge’s clerk, if not, call the clerk for the department or division your case is in. Clerks are an invaluable resource, with a wealth of knowledge about court rules, procedures, and the judge’s preferences. The clerk can probably answer your question, point you in the right direction, or confirm that your understanding of the procedure for this issue is correct. Remember to be courteous and gracious, clerks are busy and the judge won’t appreciate hearing that you treated a clerk unprofessionally.

If you still have questions, utilize a listerv you belong to or reach out to other attorneys in your network who might have experience with this issue. Also, see if there are any CLEs that apply to your issue and keep an eye out for future CLEs concerning court procedures and motion practice. It will help you feel confident that you know what to do for this appearance and future appearances, as well as keep you apprised of updates and changes going forward.

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