Choose Your Battles Wisely: The Art of Objecting

By Harrison Donahoe

Typically when people imagine attorneys, especially divorce attorneys, in a courtroom the first image that springs to mind is that of a huge cacophonous argument filled with legal jargon and contentious personal attacks that is virtually impossible to unravel by a layperson.  In this instance, the divorce attorney is suddenly reduced to the image of a bull in a china shop, wishing only to break everything within its reach and escape with as many of the broken pieces as possible.  In practice, however, the proceedings within a courtroom can and should be seen in a much more deliberate and structured light.  Make no mistake that no matter how chaotic a particular trial’s proceedings may appear the actions of most lawyers within a courtroom environment are entirely deliberate.

Opening and closing arguments notwithstanding most proceedings in a trial essentially boil down to two strategists attempting to outwit one another.  With the initial presentation of proof both sides are attempting to present their evidence in the most optimum light possible while also utilizing cross-examination to negate the advantages that opposing council is attempting to retain through the presentation of their own proof.  Within the natural push and pull motion between these two aspects of a trial, each lawyer also has an extraordinarily useful tool that in most cases (pun intended) is underutilized by most attorneys.  Raising an objection in the most basic sense of the term is to protest the inclusion of a particular question or evidence thereby allowing the judge to rule according to proper procedure.  While this in and of itself is a useful tool to keep counsels honest, the decision to object immediately to perceived violations or irrelevancies or wait for several such violations to accrue before doing so has the potential to provide attorneys a much more versatile tool than can be seen on the surface.  Take, for instance, a trial that I was able to observe in which Nick Rice was representing the Rice Divorce Team.  During a particular line of questioning by opposing council, I was certain that an objection for hearsay could have been made but instead of immediately making said objection he chose to wait until an entire sequence of questions involving hearsay had been completed before he raised his objection.  I later learned that in addition to wanting to keep the hearsay off the record as well as streamline the proceedings according to the Judge’s expressly stated wishes, Nick had also used the objection as an opportunity to throw off opposing council’s natural rhythm of questioning.

I have previously seen several other attorneys use objections in similar ways as they attempted to predict the endgame of a line of questioning and using it to hamper the effect that the culminating question and its resulting response can have on either a judge or a jury.  In my limited experience of watching and critiquing attorneys in action, one of the first things that I look at is the manner in which they utilize objections and the potential benefits that can be gained from them.  As in military strategy, knowing when to confront one’s adversary and when to maintain one’s present position can make all the difference in the overall outcome of a case.

This blog is written by the law clerks and interns of the Rice Divorce Team.  We document our experience working with Memphis Divorce Lawyer Larry Rice and Memphis Divorce Lawyer Nick Rice, as well as other members of the Rice Divorce Team.  The Rice Divorce Team represents clients in Tennessee, including Memphis, Nashville, Jackson, Columbia, Johnson City, and Knoxville.  We hope these blog posts will be interesting and show the evolution of students as they move towards being divorce and family lawyers and paralegals.  The statements in these posts should not be used as legal advice about divorce or family law.

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