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Heather Jones

Facing a court appearance can be less daunting with preparation, as lawyer-recommended strategies emphasize punctuality, presentation, and demeanor to boost confidence and ensure a respectful courtroom presence. Essential tips include getting adequate rest, arriving early, dressing conservatively, managing emotions, and being concise and respectful in communication, all aimed at navigating courtroom etiquette and enhancing the outcome of your case.

Go to bed early the night before  

Of course you are nervous and tense the night before a court appearance, it is completely natural and it happens to most people. You need sleep if you are going to be in good shape in court the next day. Do not stay up late rehashing the details of your case with friends or family members. To be blunt, it is extremely unlikely that the topic has not already been discussed at length with your family and friends. Continuing to “spin your wheels” about the case until the late hours of the night is unproductive and could be detrimental. Set a deadline for when you just stop going over notes or discussing details, 5pm the night before it a good rule of thumb. Eat a normal dinner. Avoid alcohol. Take a hot bath. Watch a comedy on tv. Do whatever you can to try and relax and sleep through the night. Think of a court appearance as “game day.” You need to be functioning at 100% and be able to track what is being said and provide sharp answers if you are questioned.  

Be there at least 30 minutes early, perhaps earlier if your attorney tells you to

Do not be late to court. We will say it again to really emphasize it, do NOT be late to court. First and foremost, even though you would not mean to look disrespectful, you probably will. Second, even though you are not trying to be irresponsible, you probably look irresponsible. Third, if you are late then you are making the court wait for you and the court has a schedule too, usually with a high caseload to handle. If you are late and the court has to wait or reschedule for you, you are going to make a lot of people annoyed or even angry with you. Remember at all times how you present yourself to the court. You might have to appear before the same judge more than once, be mindful of the impression you are giving the court.  

Furthermore, if you have not been to the courthouse before or if you are going to a courthouse located in a busy downtown area you want to allow yourself time to find parking, get through security and find the physical courtroom. Give yourself extra time. You are already stressed out, don’t make it worse for yourself by not knowing where you need to go. Ask for help finding the room if you need to or arrange with your attorney to meet in a certain spot that’s easy to find.  

Additionally, it is likely that your attorney will want to sit down with you for a few minutes prior to going into the courtroom to share last minute tips or to discuss a last minute filing by the other side. You will need that time with your attorney. Don’t be late, be early.

You can bring family members or friends for support but limit who you bring

A lot of people who have to go to court ask if they can bring support with them and that can be a very helpful thing to do. The important issue here is that you carefully select only people whose presence will be helpful to you or your case. Do you have a friend with a short temper or trouble controlling themselves? Don’t bring them to court. Do you have a relative who cries loudly or will sit and make comments during the hearing? Don’t being them to court. It does seem harsh to say this but if their presence won’t help your case, don’t bring them. You know your friends and family best so it’s your decision, choose carefully.

Furthermore, in the age of Covid-19, if there is an in-person hearing it will most likely be limited to the immediate parties. If you are appearing by Zoom or telephone, it needs to be absolutely silent in the background, the court does not want to hear your friends or family commenting on anything while the hearing is in session. Additionally, if you are appearing by Zoom, check your screen name, nothing vulgar, childish or offensive because the court will notice it.

Dress appropriately and don’t bring anything sharp or potentially dangerous to the courthouse  

You do not have to wear a suit or any kind of “business attire” to court. If you do have appropriate business attire, it won’t hurt you to wear it. A court appearance is a very serious event and it is important to appear respectful at all times. There is a reason the judges wear a robe and the attorneys wear business attire.  Wear clean, neat clothing in good repair. Do not show up in ripped jeans and a t-shirt with writing on it. Do not show up in clothing that is extra tight or shows a lot of skin. Be as conservative as possible. This might seem like an odd suggestion but if you can wear white near your face do so. If you have long hair wear it back and away from your face.

These same rules apply to a Zoom appearance, just because you are not physically in the courthouse with the judge does not mean you can get away with inappropriate clothing.  

If you have an in-person hearing, check your pockets or handbag for anything sharp or potentially dangerous before you enter the courthouse. You will be going through a security checkpoint and a nail file, your pepper spray or a Swiss Army knife will cause a problem.  

Bring a checkbook and a snack, a bottle of water and breath mints, do not bring gum

We want you to be as prepared as possible for your court appearance. Sometimes, a hearing can run long. Bring along a small snack that you can eat on a recess if you can’t find a vending machine or won’t have time to search for one. A small bottle of water would also be a good idea, a lot of courthouses tend to be very dry or stress gives people a dry mouth. You can bring some breath mints with you but do not bring chewing gum. Sitting in front of a judge, chewing on a piece of gum, is never a good idea. Use the breath mints if you need to but do it quietly. The checkbook is for any payments that the judge might direct you to make in court, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.  

Never show anger in court

At some point you might be ordered to take the stand and provide testimony. If you provide testimony you will be cross-examined by the other side. The last thing you want to do on the stand (or even in your seat on the floor) is show anger, even though it is highly likely that you are very, very angry. You must remain in control of yourself and what you say. Speak only the truth but be careful with its delivery. Raising your voice and reciting a list of what is wrong with the opposing party and their actions is not helpful and can actually be harmful. If you are going to accuse someone of doing something, accuse them calmly and be prepared to back it up with proof. There is a harsh but true takeaway here, no one really sympathizes with the angry person who is yelling, remember that.  

Address the court with courtesy

Remember you are in front of a judge. While it is ok and even helpful to take a conversational tone with the judge (provided the judge does so first), always be respectful. In addition to using “your honor” every time you speak to the judge remember to use “please” and “thank you.” Never be short or sarcastic with your tone of voice. It seems like such a simple thing but these little actions add up and contribute to the overall impression you give to everyone in that courtroom. You are being scrutinized and evaluated every time you speak, behave accordingly.  

If you are put on the stand, its ok to not know something

If you are on the stand the attorney for the other side will have an opportunity to question you about facts and events. This process is called “cross-examination.” A lot of attorneys are very skilled at making it seem like you should know something or that you are trying to lie to them about something. The bottom line here is that if you don’t know something or if you don’t remember something, its ok. You are not a machine who can simply produce details at the drop of a hat. Its ok to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” A skillful attorney will try to make it seem like you saying that is somehow wrong, but do not be fooled by their behavior, if you don’t know then you don’t know, period. Furthermore, if you don’t understand the questions that the attorney is asking, say so. It is the attorney’s job to ask questions in a way that can be understood by anyone, it is not your job to try and guess what they are asking you.  

If you are put on the stand, stay on target  

A lot of the time, once a witness gets “comfortable” on the stand, they will start to chatter. Don’t chatter on the stand. The urge to chatter comes from the fact that you know a lot about the situation being presented in court. You’ve been involved in the situation from day one so you have a lot of opinions and of course, plenty to say. Don’t give in to the urge to chatter. You will end up wandering off target onto either pointless or potentially harmful tangents. Just answer the questions you are asked by the attorneys or the court. Keep your responses short, simple and truthful. Do not chatter on the stand. A good rule of thumb is when an attorney or the judge asks you something, count to three in your mind and take a breath, don’t just blurt something out. Think before you speak.  

If things don’t go your way in court do not make a scene

In every court case there is a “winner” and a “loser.” Never assume that things are going to go your way in court and be prepared to deal with the court ruling in the other party’s favor. In other words, hope for the best but prepare yourself mentally to handle it if you do not get a win that day. If things do not go your way in court, it is vital that you control your response. You will be given time after the hearing to speak to your attorney privately  about everything that happened in court. The important thing to remember here is that the conversation needs to be private between you and your attorney. Wait until you are not being listened to by the court or the other side to have that conversation.  

There is always the possibility that a different strategy can be taken or that you can appeal the decision. If you engage in “bad” or “outrageous” behavior in front of the judge or the other side, you could be hurting your chances to get something changed in the future, don’t do it. Final is rarely FINAL and bad behavior could affect your chance at a change or modification. Just stay calm and follow your attorney’s instructions.  

This is obviously a very long list of things to do and not do when you are preparing for a court appearance but we think it’s a helpful one that anyone who is going to court should know. Your court appearance can have a serious impact on your life for many years to come and we want you to be as prepared as possible. Your attorney will undoubtedly have additions to this list, depending on your individual situation. If you need help with a legal matter and are looking for representation, give O’Flaherty Law a call, we would be happy to talk about how we can help you.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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