I am always surprised how unprepared people seem when they come to court, especially when they don’t have a good lawyer to advise them. Then again, having had a quarter century’s worth of experience in courtrooms, it is probably a little more obvious to me what it takes to be prepared that it would be to someone who has never set foot in a courtroom before.
So, without knowing the first thing about what brings you to court, I offer you the following unsolicited advice:
Dress nicely. You can’t hardly dress too nicely for court. If you are a man and you have a suit, wear it. If you are a woman, you can wear slacks if you don’t want to wear a dress, but slacks, not jeans or casual pants or leggings. Don’t wear anything too revealing. Conservative is the name of the game. At the very least, go to Goodwill or another thrift store and pick up a pair of khakis and a polo-type shirt. If you don’t dress professionally like this, you will be sending the message that you don’t much care about rules or the standard decorum of the courtroom. Since, by definition, you are in a courtroom for the express purpose of convincing someone that you are reliable and should be believed over the other side, you should look like someone the judge wants to believe. If nothing else, it shows that you have respect for the court and the judge and its process. If you don’t show it respect, you shouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t respect you. The courtroom is the one place in modern society that has not gone casual.
Your day in court is your day in court. I am also shocked by how many times people will say, “I have the receipt/paper/pictures/proof, but not with me. I can go home and bring it back if you want.” This is your day in court! This is the day that whatever you are trying to prove (or disprove) is being proven (or disproven.) If there was ever a day to get this paperwork together and bring it, this is the day. As a general rule, it is better to have too much than too little. When in doubt, bring it, and don’t assume that having it on your phone is good enough. Print out what you can.
Be polite. All women are addressed as “Ma’am” and all men are “Sir.” Don’t cuss. If someone says something that is a flat out lie, you may address it through testimony, but rolling your eyes or making noises or other gestures, just makes you look bad. Be confident in your truth. Part of being confident in your truth is being confident that lies will be uncovered.
Don’t be afraid to show legitimate emotion. If something makes you sad, cry. If something makes you happy, smile. If you are too choked up to speak, ask for a moment. I’ve never seen a judge who wouldn’t give you a second to gather yourself.
If you didn’t hear something, don’t be afraid to say some variant on, “What?” If you didn’t understand something, ask for more explanation. If you don’t know something, say, “I don’t know.”
If your lawyer has not talked to you about your day in court, don’t be afraid to ask what you need to know, what you should wear, and what you should say and not say. Lawyers do more than give legal advice – they are the producers and directors of the great show that is a trial.
Mostly, just be respectful and honest. And not just in the courtroom.
Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. It is being offered for informational purposes only.