I hope the following practical tips will assist with alleviating any worries you have about your first appearance. Trust me, you will enjoy it!
The key to appearing is preparation.
As soon as I receive an instruction I review the matter in detail. Before appearing it is very helpful to know the history of the case; when it last called or if it is the first time the case has been in court, why it is calling, the basis for what you are asking the court to do and the other side's position. Having this information means that you are more likely to be able to answer any questions the Sheriff may ask.
It is also important to bring copies of all the relevant documents to accompany your instructions with you and have extra copies for the Sheriff and the other agent if necessary. This demonstrates to the Sheriff that you have prepared properly and can also help you with answering questions the Sheriff may have. For example, if the Sheriff asks for information about service of a petition, it is very useful to have a copy of the service report with you.
Without preparation you are much more likely to have a difficult time!
Why you are appearing and what is your back up position
For each instruction you receive you need to know exactly why you are appearing. What is it you are moving for? If you are not 100% sure you must ask the instructing solicitor for clarification or more information. You are the one standing before the Sheriff and asking the Sheriff to grant your motion, so it is important that you are able to explain clearly what it is you are looking for the Sheriff to do and the legal basis on which you consider it is competent to ask for this. You should be prepared to refer to the relevant rules if necessary to explain the legal authority for what you are asking for, so take a copy of the relevant rules with you.
It is also important to check if there is a "back up plan". If the Sheriff is not willing to grant your motion they may ask you if you have an alternative option!
Know the Sheriff and the court
Each Sheriff is different. They can have a different approach, a different style of questioning, or particular information they wish to know before making their decision. I suggest shadowing colleagues who appear before your first appearance. It is important to get used to the atmosphere of the courtroom, how cases are conducted and the typical questions a Sheriff may ask. Before my first appearance I regularly shadowed colleagues. This allowed me to note the style of questions a Sheriff asks and helped me to present motions when I started appearing.
Provide all the Sheriff with the key facts
I have learned that it is beneficial to your motion if you can provide the Sheriff with the key information in your opening speech. By providing the Sheriff with the information upfront, the Sheriff will appreciate that you know your case and it can save time as it may not be necessary for the Sheriff to ask so many follow up questions. Preparation is again key.
If the unexpected happens ask for a continuation and seek instructions - don’t dig yourself into a hole
One of the lessons of my litigation training is that, if you find yourself in a position where you cannot give the Sheriff information which they require or you are asked to respond to an alterative course of action proposed by the opposing agent or Sheriff which you did not expect, you should consider asking for further time to seek instructions. This could either be asking for the case to be recalled later in the rolls or asking for it to be continued to a later date. Do not provide the Sheriff with information that you are not 100% sure is correct and avoid agreeing to something that you do not have your clients instructions on.
Last tip. Do not turn your back on the Sheriff Clerk until they have finished speaking. This infuriates some Sheriffs. A common example is when a Sheriff grants a continuation and the Clerk is confirming the date when the hearing will call again. You should wait until the date has been confirmed before leaving the court or returning to your seat. This will also give you time to make a note of what the clerk has said as it is really important to take this down accurately.
Just remember that preparation is the key to a successful appearance. Good luck!