Representing yourself in a court of law can feel intimidating; most of us haven’t done this more than once or twice during the course of a lifetime, and chances are good that this is your first time. Knowing ahead of time about the general court rules of decorum in a courtroom will help you prepare to put your best foot forward. Your legal advocacy group will help you learn what you should do in the courtroom to make a good impression on the judge. In the meantime, check out this list of tips for following the general court rules.
Court Rules & Treating the Judge With Respect
It should go without saying that the judge is the one in charge of the courtroom. He or she will decide your fate as far as your case goes, so it’s in your best interest to treat the judge with the respect deserved by the position. This means standing when he or she enters the room and not sitting until they do (you can follow the lead of others in the courtroom). Always address the judge as “Your Honor,” and not by using the titles, Mr., Mrs., or Judge.
Do not interrupt the judge, and answer the questions that he or she asks. If you are asked to do something, just do it without arguing. To argue with the judge or to ignore what they tell you to do is to not only risk making a poor impression which might impact your case but also could put you in contempt of court rules. Don’t risk it.
Wear Appropriate Clothing
Your legal resource group will have given you some advice on what to wear to court. In general, you will want to dress conservatively. This is not the time to express your personality through your clothing or accessories. Wear something that fits well and looks professional but that will not attract undue attention. For a man, a long-sleeve button-down shirt and dress slacks with or without a jacket are appropriate. A woman can wear a business suit, a sweater and nice slacks, or an appropriate dress.
Do not wear jeans, sneakers, dirty or torn clothing, t-shirts, or other items that are not in line with the decorum of a courtroom. You might also consider covering distracting tattoos and dyeing your hair to a natural color if you are currently sporting blue, pink, or green tresses. Your hair should be neat and clean. Those with long hair can tie it back neatly if desired. These unofficial court rules will have a larger impact on your case than you think.
Leave Certain Items Home
A courtroom is a place where you can’t necessarily just walk in with whatever you happen to have on your person. You can’t chew gum or smoke in the courtroom, so don’t bother trying to bring these substances in with you. Many courts do not allow devices that can be used to record the proceedings; this includes your cellphone. If you are allowed to bring in your phone, be sure to turn it off so it does not ring or vibrate and disturb others. You should not take a call while you are in the courtroom as that would be breaking the court rules.
If your child needs to accompany you to court, bring along another adult who will be able to care for him or her and leave if they become disruptive or need to eat or use the restroom. Young children, in particular, won’t be able to control these needs and you cannot leave to attend to them while you are in the middle of your case.
Be Where You Need to Be
Arrive at the court early enough to get through security and get to where you need to be. If you’ve never been there before, consider getting there 30 minutes early so you can find a parking spot and find the courtroom.
Physically, you’ll probably be sitting or standing at the prosecution or defense table. The court rules dictate this is where you need to stay unless you are asked to approach the bench or called up as a witness. You cannot move toward the judge without permission; just stay at your table to answer questions unless you’re asked to move forward. Once you are in the witness box, you can’t leave without permission.
Following the court rules of decorum in the courtroom will help you to make a good impression and not distract the judge from his or her job of finding the fairest solution to whatever brought you to court in the first place. If you do not have a private attorney, a legal resource group is an economical and effective way to learn how to represent yourself. They will walk you through what to expect in court so you will be less nervous and better able to focus on your case.