Guide on How to prepare for your day in court

How to Prepare For Your Day in Court

Do you have an upcoming court date? Regardless of whether you are the plaintiff or defendant, or whether it’s a criminal or family law proceeding, you must prepare for your court appearance.

Properly preparing for court ensures that you know how to behave and speak inside the courtroom. Conducting yourself incorrectly during proceedings could lead to your case not ending in your favor.

Are you unsure about how to prepare for a hearing at your local court? No worries. We are about to tell you the dos and don’ts that you must master before appearing before a judge.

Preparing for Court Dos

Show Up Early

If you are to be before the judge by 9:00 a.m., arrive at the court building at least 30 minutes early. That gives you enough time to park, get into the building, and find the courtroom for your case.

Being on time gives the judge one less reason to deliver an unfavorable ruling against you. Also, if the court staff has moved your case to a different courtroom, coming in early gives you enough time to find the new courtroom before proceedings begin.

Dress Appropriately

Job interviews and appearing before a judge share certain similarities. For example, you need to dress your best to create a good impression and show that you take the situation seriously. If you look scruffy, it could paint you in a bad light and negatively impact your case.

Do you own a formal suit? Wear it to your court hearing. If you can’t afford a suit, wear the cleanest and most formal-looking outfit you own. Avoid baggy, cropped, or overly tight clothing. Also, avoid excessive makeup or jewelry and flamboyant hairstyles. Lastly, do not wear hats or chew gum in the courtroom.

If you ignore this advice, a court officer may escort you from the room. Even if the officer doesn’t call you out, your appearance could jeopardize your chances of your case ending with a favorable outcome.

Have Your Documents Ready

During hearings, judges make decisions based on submitted written declarations and arguments. You must have these documents ready before the court date. Bring at least three copies of your original documents to your hearing. You will give one copy to the judge and another to the opposing party.

If you are coming for a trial, have your documentary and physical evidence ready. The court clerk must mark original documents and their copies before you can present them. If you have several documents, make a list so that you can keep track of them.

In family law proceedings, such as a trial for child support, you must file documents like recent pay stubs, W-2 forms, and previous year’s tax returns. The court will use the filed evidence to determine how much child support to award.

If you don’t know the documents to file, ask an attorney for legal advice. Alternatively, your attorney can have your court documents prepared and filed on your behalf.

Verify the Court Hearing Date

The court clerk should provide you with a hearing date after you’ve filed your paperwork. If the clerk doesn’t provide you with a hearing date, you can approach the judge’s court staff for one. After collecting the hearing time and date, share the information with the opposing party.

Prepare Your Witnesses

When preparing for court, don’t neglect to prepare your witnesses. You may not need witnesses during a court hearing, but you will need them during the trial. You should exchange witness lists with the opposing party before your court date. Should you choose to be a witness in your own case, you should state it in the witness list provided to the court.

Before the court date, give your witnesses all the information they need, such as the trial date, time, and place. Don’t forget to go over their testimonies and rehearse how they will present their evidence.

On the court date, ensure that all of your witnesses arrive on time and dress appropriately. If you have witnesses who decline to show up for your court case, you can get subpoenas that force them to come.

Provide Accurate Contact Information

Court staff may need to send you a notice or update about your case. If the contact information you provided is wrong, you will miss the news. If your address or phone number changes while your case is ongoing, be sure to provide the court with your updated contact information.

Turn Off All Communication Devices

Having your cell phone suddenly ring while the judge is speaking can get you into trouble. Receiving a phone call or texting while your opposing party is speaking is also unadvisable. Avoid complications by turning off all your communication devices or switching to silent mode before entering the courtroom.

Prepare to Spend the Whole Day in Court

Don’t expect to be the first case to appear before the judge. If you are one of the last cases on the docket list, you could be in court all day. That’s why you and your witnesses must clear your schedules and come to court prepared to spend the entire day.

Present Your Case Politely

Always talk to judges with the utmost respect. Even if you don’t like the way the judge speaks to you, respond politely and avoid sarcasm at all costs. Besides the judge, speak to witnesses and the opposing party politely. Also, do not try to talk over others who are addressing the court, and when you cross-examine a witness, speak to them respectfully.

Obey the Rules Regarding Standing

Stand when the judge enters the courtroom or rises to leave. Also, rise when the jury enters or stands to leave the courtroom. When it’s your turn to talk to the court or if the judge addresses you, rise to your feet. If you break this rule, the judge could hold you in contempt. If you can’t stand due to a medical condition, be sure to explain your reason to the judge.

Properly Address the Court

If you choose to represent yourself, learn how to address the judge correctly. For example, you should always address the judge as Your Honor and every other person in court by their surname. Also, when presenting your case, you should speak to the court and not the opposing counsel.

For more legal information regarding proper conduct in court, consult a lawyer.

Preparing for Court Don’ts

Don’t Take Photographs

It’s not uncommon to see a person taking a selfie or shooting a TikTok video in the most unlikely places. However, doing these things in courts could get you into trouble. Judges expect you to treat the courtroom with the utmost reverence, so keep your cameras out of sight until you leave the courthouse.

Don’t Approach the Bench

If you would like to speak to the judge privately, ask for the court’s permission. The judge may then allow you to approach the bench or request that you come to their chambers. Should you approach the judge’s bench without permission, the court officer will stop you. If you try to force your way through, the officer will likely arrest you.

During a trial, lawyers, defendants, and plaintiffs must also stay a reasonable distance from the witness stand and jury box.

Don’t Postpone Answering Court Notices

After receiving a legal notice, you should respond to the document as quickly as possible. Failure to respond could lead to a judge passing judgment without you getting a chance to defend yourself. Also, ignoring legal notices, such as a court order, could lead to fines, late fees, and other penalties. If you are unsure about how to respond to a notice, speak with a lawyer.

Don’t Lie

In court, you must tell nothing but the truth. Lying while under oath will amount to perjury, which is punishable under the law. That’s because even a small lie can undermine the legal process.

If you perjure yourself during a trial or hearing, you could face penalties such as fines and imprisonment. Lying could also worsen your legal issue by making the jury and judge perceive you as untrustworthy.

Don’t Bring Sharp Metal Objects to the Courthouse

It’s not unusual to hear about a disgruntled person attacking a witness, lawyer, or judge. Most courthouses prevent such incidents by installing a metal detector at their entrance. If the metal detector flags you and security finds a Swiss army knife in your pocket, you may have to explain why you have a potential weapon on your person.

Besides knives and other pointy objects, other items that could get you into trouble with court security are:

  • Scissors
  • Guns
  • Tasers
  • Knitting needles
  • Illegal drugs

Some courts even have rules that ban bringing cell phones and cameras into the building.

Don’t Fax a Document to the Court Staff

Fax machines eliminate the cost and hassle of delivering documents in-person or via postal service. However, most courts do not accept the electronic transfer of documents. You have to file your forms and other documents in person and request a receipt.

Alternatively, some