Going to court can be a nerve racking experience. But knowing what to expect and being well prepared can go a long way in helping to make you feel more at ease. Whether you’re a seasoned lawyer or representing a client for the first time, understanding courtroom etiquette can make all the difference. You'll be sure to make a good impression with these 6 rules.
1. Be Punctual
Being late is the best way to make a poor first impression. It both gives the impression that you are unorganized and have no respect for the court's time. Being punctual is critical.
When you have to appear in court you should arrive at least 10-15 minutes early. Giving yourself that bit of time allows you to collect your thoughts, check the docket, use the bathroom and mentally prepare. It also sends the message that you mean business and that you are fully invested in the case. Before your first appearance, however, you should have visited your courthouse (more on that next) so that you understand how far in advance you actually have to arrive.
2. Get Your Bearings
Give yourself some time to familiarize yourself with your courthouse. How long does it take to get through the security line, how slow are the elevators, what floor is your courtroom on, where do you file ex parte's? Make sure you know the courthouse in and out long before it’s time to go in.
It also doesn't hurt to be friendly. When you visit the courthouse get to know the personnel a little bit. Your are likely to come into contact with security guards, bailiffs, and clerks. If you are polite and courteous it’s more likely that you will be treated that way too and it will pay dividends when you need to get something done.
3. Do Your Research
As soon as you learn which judge will be presiding over your case, start learning about them. Sit in on some of their other cases to observe how they work and what they like and dislike. If you’ve been friendly with the courthouse staff you can try asking them to give you some pointers about your judge. You also probably know someone who has appeared before this judge so send out an RFI at your firm or in your other legal networks to learn as much as you can. With that said, keep an open mind. One person's experience does not have to be your own. Make a good first impression and it will go a long way.
4. Be Prepared
It should go without saying but make sure you are well prepared for the case. Know your arguments well ,prep your client, and be ready to defend your position. Have all of your paperwork organized so that you can easily find what you need. Bring easy to follow notes that you can refer to or a colleague to make sure you remember all of your key points.
Being prepared can go a long way in boosting your confidence while unnerving the opposition. Send the message from the get-go that you’ve come to win!
5. Dress Appropriately
Some courthouses have strict rules regarding attire. Make sure you know what they are. For example in federal courthouses suits or a dress with a jacket is almost mandatory. Other courthouses may be more relaxed but it’s always a good idea to bring a jacket just in case.
You don't have to be afraid to add your personal style but you shouldn't allow your clothing to distract from what you want to say. Your argument and your client need to be the centerpiece, not you.
6. Mind Your Manners
In court things can get heated and opposing counsel may try to get under your skin. Never succumb to the urge to fight back or complain. Judges prefer to see you in control and believe it or not, they see what you see. Demonstrating that you can be respectful in the face of adversity will be to your advantage.
Do you know what you’re wearing to your next court case?