Going to Court
If you are somehow involved in litigation, whether as a party or a witness, it is important to make a good impression on the decisionmaker (the judge or jury, also referred to as “the court”). Follow these rules if you ever find yourself appearing in court.
Top Ten Tips… Plus One
- Visit the courtroom ahead of your hearing date. If possible, sit as a bystander in the gallery so that you can see the judge at work, and possibly note his or her particular idiosyncracies and preferences. Observe how s/he runs her courtroom, where, quite frankly, she is the queen, so that you are able to behave as she expects when your hearing date arrives.
- Arrive on time. Or arrive early, if you need time to meet with your lawyer ahead of your court appearance. I often meet with clients 15-30 minutes ahead of any hearing so that we can discuss any last minute instructions I might have or information they might want to share.
- Wear clothing appropriate for a business meeting, whether you are a white-collar professional or a working class laborer. No sandals, tank tops, or shorts are ever appropriate.
- Turn off all your electronic devices before entering the courtroom. I’ve seen attorneys held in contempt and ordered to pay a fine when their phones accidentally rang during a hearing.
- Bring a pad of paper and a pen so that you can write notes to your lawyer instead of whispering in his ear. A good lawyer will bring those for you, but everyone forgets occasionally, and, if you’re prepared, then, at worst, you risk doubling up your tools.
- Rise when the judge and/or jury enter and leave the courtroom. Don’t wait for your attorney to nudge you; believe it or not, the judges often notice those small courtesies.
- This next rule depends on the judge. If the courtroom is extremely formal, then you should stand when addressing the judge. Many family law courts are not quite so formal, but you should be able to discover your judge’s preference on this point by visiting the courtroom or by quizzing your lawyer ahead of time.
- Always address the judge as “Your Honor” or “Judge.” There may be another acceptable term in your jurisdiction but these two are universal.
- Do not interrupt or make faces when others are speaking. This is the one rule that many clients, and even lawyers sometimes find difficult to follow. It seems that we can’t help smirking, or muttering under our breaths, or shaking our heads and frowning when the opposing party lies, or stretches the truth, or even just uses descriptive words that are not as accurate as ours would be. Don’t do it. The judge will, at some point, tag you for it, sometimes out loud but often you won’t even know that he’s tallied a black mark against you in his mind.
- Direct all of your attention and your remarks to the judge and not to opposing counsel or the opposing party, or even the witness on the stand. This rule, too, is difficult for both clients and their lawyers to obey. I know; I used to teach trial practice in law school.
- Be polite to the judge, opposing counsel, and court staff. This is really just a summary of the rules above.
Why do these rules even matter? As you may already have deduced, in many cases, the party who makes the best impression on the judge or jury will be deemed more credible and will ultimately win. So, it is important to know how to act in court to increase your chances for success.
If you need help preparing to attend your court hearing with grace and with respect, we can help. To discover if our services might be right for you, visit us at Open Palm Law or email me at Joryn@OpenPalmLaw.com. We are here for you, and for your family, during the stress of whatever change your family is going through!
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Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.