It’s normal to be nervous or anxious about being in a courtroom. Maintaining composure and courtroom etiquette help ensure the best outcome possible for your case.
Below are some things to keep in mind while you are in court.
- Be early. Arrive at least 20 minutes prior to your court time. The judge can dismiss your case if you are late.
- Leave your cell phone in the car. If you must bring your phone in for evidence, make sure to make arrangements with your attorney and/or court personnel in advance. It can be jarring to have to return to your car once you get to security.
- Dress appropriately. For women, this means you should wear closed toe flats or heels. Make sure blouses and dresses cover the shoulders and are not revealing. Pants or skirts should not be overly tight, and they should come down to knee-length. For men, this means you should wear closed toe shoes, preferably dress shoes. Always wear a dress shirt and dress pants if possible. Remember: It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed while in court!
- Bring a notepad and pen with you.
- Stay quiet while the judge is talking. If you have a concern, address it with your attorney at the appropriate time by passing her a note or writing your concern down. Do not ever speak directly to the judge unless the judge directly asks you a question.
- Try not to speak to your attorney when the someone is on the witness stand or the other attorney is talking. It’s crucial that your attorney hears everything opposing counsel says. so do not continuously whisper to her unless it’s urgent.
- When you believe a witness is not telling the truth, in as few words as possible, tell the attorney (preferably on a note) the truth. Saying “she’s lying” does not give the attorney the right information for cross-examination.
Example: Opposing party said the car was blue. The car was actually Red. Do not pass the attorney a note saying, “they are lying” – the attorney will not be able to figure out what they are lying about and prepare for cross-examination. Instead pass the attorney a note saying, “The car was red.”
- Do not interrupt anyone. Wait until it is your time to speak.
- Keep facial expressions to a minimum. While it may be difficult to not get upset, staying calm is always in your best interest.
- Refer to the judge as “Your Honor” when speaking.
- Speak loudly and clearly.
- Never chew gum or wear hats or sunglasses in the courtroom.
- Stay seated until the judge instructs you otherwise. Never approach the bench where the judge is sitting.
- Keep any documents that are given to you and bring them to any future relevant hearings. In particular, they judge may require you to sign a “recognizance” – a promise to appear later – if a court date needs to be rescheduled. Make sure to make a note of your new court date.
Samantha is a 3rd year law student at Elon University School of Law