Being a judge has one thing in common with legal blogging: you can’t always make everyone happy. But despite the fact that every time judges rule they are ruling against one side or the other, some judges are more popular than others.  Why is that?

I think that the main factor that determines a judge’s popularity among lawyers is effort.

Sure there are some lawyers who like every judge they’ve won a case before and hate every judge where they’ve lost. But lawyers with a clue don’t view things that way. Thinking lawyers focus more on the judge’s effort in deciding whether the judge is a good judge.   

Judges complain about poor effort from lawyers: not being prepared; not meeting deadlines; not knowing the case; not proof reading and spending enough time on briefs. The same can be applied to lawyers’ criticisms of judges: not being prepared; not knowing the case; not reading the briefs; not explaining decisions; and not ruling in a timely manner.

Just as judges want to see effort from the lawyers, lawyers want to see effort from the judges.

Regardless of what you think about the decisions coming down from the Mississippi Supreme Court, you are likely to improve your perception of the institution and the sitting justices by seeing the Court in action. Watch an oral argument at the Court in person or from your desk by web cast. You will see justices who have done their homework and know the record.

Sometimes it appears that the whole reason for the oral argument is so the Court can ask where in the record something is. But if they are asking this question, it’s usually not in the record. Justices will shut down lawyer’s efforts to educate them on what the case is about—-they already know that. Seeing justices who have done their homework makes you feel better about the process, even when you lose or disagree with a particular decision.

Sometimes you see that kind of effort from trial court judges; sometimes not. Judges who are consistently in the “not” category are unpopular among lawyers. It’s a lot easier for lawyers to stomach a perceived incorrect ruling when the judge clearly knows the case and provides a reasonable basis for the ruling. It’s hard to take personal an adverse ruling under those circumstances. Even when lawyers think that type of judge got the ruling wrong they are likely to complement the judge’s effort when talking about it with other lawyers.

There are also judges who are unpopular because it appears that they have an axe to grind. But I know of only a handful of judges in the state who are in this category. Lack of effort is a more prevalent trait of unpopular judges.

Granted, some judges don’t care what lawyers think about their work. They do it their way and if anyone doesn’t want to say the pledge of allegiance like it, then its the lawyer’s problem. Guess which column of the effort category judges with this type of attitude are almost always in?