Nobody likes to go to court. For some of our clients, their unpleasant memories of a criminal conviction include multiple court appearances, pleading guilty in front of a judge, endless meetings with a District Attorney and their criminal attorney, thousands of dollars in fines, and sometimes even custody and jail. For other clients, they have bad memories of civil or family court, with the attendant trial fees and the uncertainty and stress of prolonged litigation. And, even for those clients with no court history at all, the prospect of “trial” conjures up memories of TV procedurals like Law & Order, where one wrong word could end in tragedy.
The reality of administrative court is very different. The hearings are conducted in small, private courtrooms that are “open to the public” only in theory—the hearings are not publicly advertised and the rooms themselves are very difficult to access. The trials are conducted formally, but the rules of evidence are relaxed, and the judge him- or herself usually converses openly with the attorneys on the record. Witnesses are often treated respectfully, and usually every effort is made to respect the convenience and schedule of those who agree to testify.
Nonetheless, clients usually want to avoid hearing at any cost. For this reason, some administrative attorneys pride themselves on their ability to settle cases and avoid hearing. Our firm believes in getting the best possible results for our clients, even if that means taking cases all the way to trial. Why is this experience important? If your case could settle, why would you want to go to hearing?
First, because only by going to hearing and knowing how a judge is likely to rule do we know whether or not our clients are getting a good deal. Sometimes agency counsel insist that they are offering a good deal, when in fact our clients go to court and achieve a better result from a judge. Sometimes our clients are frustrated by the deals they are offered, when in fact the deal is likely to be better than what would happen in court. Only an attorney who has significant trial experience can tell the good deals from the bad.
Second, the differences between administrative court and civil/criminal court are profound. The arguments, evidence, and case presentation that would work in front of a jury or in a civil matter are in some cases wholly inapplicable to administrative court. In the worst of cases, we read decisions from ALJs where entire strategies devised by inexperienced attorneys to help their clients end up backfiring and ruining the client’s chance of success. Knowing what judges want to hear matters, because we can then counsel our client to discuss their matter in the context that will help them convince a judge of what they deserve.
Finally, hearing experience matters because we know how to succeed. Our attorneys are regularly recognized at the Offices of Administrative Hearings statewide. Judges ask us about each other, and our reputation for professionalism and success precedes us into every hearing. We know how to organize our arguments, our evidence, and our witnesses to achieve results, and judges who see our firm name know that we will conduct ourselves with professionalism and courtesy. That positive impression extends to every aspect of the courtroom, including our clients.
When your license is on the line, you want the attorney with you who knows his audience. We know what works, and we use that experience to achieve results.