The Family Court sometimes lends itself to … uncomfortable issues. Sensitive discussions. Past sexual abuse, financial desperation, domestic violence, a parent’s criminal record or medical record, sexual dysfunction. What have you. The items to be argued must be weighed by the audience suffering the argument. Only the most cruel Family Court attorney would blithely argue difficult matters in open court. Hence the “chamber conference” – beloved by attorneys and judges but a subject of great frustration for the parties involved. A chamber conference takes place away from prying eyes – and objections. Involving the attorneys and the judge only, without the parties or the stenographer, attorneys utilize the chamber conference to argue the heart of a client’s case without any frills (concerns about how each party may receive the argument, worries about formal use of the rules of evidence, the minutiae of the matter). A chamber conference forces the attorneys to adopt a 30,000 foot view of the case and move away from quibbling over the smaller issues. It forces the attorneys to be, above all, reasonable. In fact, a chamber conference is foremost a competition between the attorneys to couch his or her argument in the most favorable light. There is no theater, no client to impress, no cheap points to be gained. It is bare bones and we count on it for intractable cases (or parties).
This is because a chamber conference has an audience of only one (the judge) instead of an audience of several (the judge, the parties, the families of the parties, the public). No grandstanding, no ego, no nonsense, the chamber conference if used properly allows each attorney to present the most important part of his or her client’s many concerns, to address those concerns, and more often than not come to a creative solution to address those concerns. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a chamber conference when an attentive judge, after listening to an attorney, asked simply, “What’s really the problem here”. That’s what really happens. But what the client sees is that his or her attorney goes in the back (into chambers) for ten or fifteen minutes and comes out with an idea or two about how to proceed which comes straight from the judge and may or may not be exhaustive in dealing with the concerns of the divorce or child custody matter. If two skilled attorneys are involved they can take an abbreviated discussion with the Family Court judge and nurture it, adapting it to meet the questions and objections of the parties and create an Order (even just a temporary one) that can get each party out and on with their lives, even if only in the short term.
Of course, some matters are too complex, or the enmity between the parties is too deeply rooted to fully address in a conference, but we attorneys often find them more helpful than might be expected.
So, if you see your attorney head to the back to chat with the judge, this may well be in your interest, and the interests of everyone involved, including the kids! Your lawyer is not just practicing their putting back there…