Lori Cooper's War Story



Leason Ellis was asked to represent a client in the entertainment industry with respect to a trademark infringement matter.  I was the associate working on the case.  We conducted an investigation, then prepared and filed a complaint in the Southern District of New York.  The complaint claimed trademark infringement and unfair competition against a newcomer to the industry who had adopted a mark identical to our client’s registered trademark. 

After a few months, it was time to head into Manhattan for the initial pretrial conference.  On the train ride in, I fielded questions from the partner on the case as final preparation for the conference, including confirming relevant dates of use and registration by the parties.  With about three years of experience under my belt at the time, I looked forward to every opportunity to attend courtroom proceedings before the judges of S.D.N.Y, putting faces to names, and taking note as to their courtroom manner. 

Upon arrival our judge was delighted to see four attorneys, one partner and one associate for each side, appearing for an initial conference late on a Friday afternoon in August, commenting that we must not have anything better to do.  After everyone introduced themselves and the judge gave some preliminary remarks, she was ready to hear briefly from each side.

I sat, ready to take notes as each partner made their statements, but to my surprise, and I assume everyone else’s, the judge looked right at me and said: “Ms. Cooper, I’m sure that Mr. Sloane is fully prepared and ready to talk to me about this case, but I think I’d like to hear from you today, is that okay?”  While I was not expecting to speak, I eagerly stood up, saying:  "Yes, of course your Honor."  I went on to explain who our client was, what services it provided, how it used its mark and our basis for our complaint, answering the judge’s questions along the way. 

We have all read about judges encouraging law firms to provide as many courtroom opportunities to young associates as possible, and I have seen it most often in the form of a statement in a judges individual rules, or an order issued early on in a case.  However, I had not thought about the possibility of a judge passing over the seasoned partner who planned the handle the conference, and instead spontaneously asking to speak with the person in the second chair. 

While I was prepared that day, and am grateful for the opportunity it provided, it taught me another lesson: if you are going to appear in court on behalf of a client, always be prepared to speak, no matter what.