How to Conduct Yourself in Court

My primary areas of practice (family law and criminal defense) result in me going to court with my clients a lot. Often success or failure can come down to simple likeability. Likeability can come down to how you conduct yourself in court. There are some basic rules of conduct anyone going to court should follow:

1. Dress appropriately. Conservative dress is usually best. Most courts have local rules establishing a dress code for lawyers practicing in front of the judges. Do you know why? It's because judges care about how people dress and appear in their courtroom. Appropriate dress won't necessarily guarantee success, but inappropriate dress can assure failure. Dont show up to court for your DUI with a Corona T-shirt or pot leaf logo. I once saw a judge refuse to grant a guy probation essentially because the guy did not have his shirt tucked in when he appeared for sentencing.

2. Think about why you are going to court. If you are going to court because you are behind on your child support, it may not be the best time to show up in your new sneakers and gold chains. My favorite story is the time I represented a woman trying to collect past due child support and I subpoenaed the ex-husband's new fiancee who showed up to court with the new diamond ring he had purchased her.

3. Be respectful at all times. Common courtesy and civility go a long way when dealing with the court and opposing counsel. Being disrespectful and rude will not earn you any points at all and will only serve to destroy your credibility. The last thing any judge wants is to see his/her court devolve into a shouting match with insults flying between the parties.

4. Do not take it personally. Believe me, I realize that it is easy for me to tell you not to take it personally when it is not my life that is hanging in the balance. Nevertheless, this all goes back to likeability. If opposing counsel (or the opposing party) starts getting personal or seems to be trying to incite you, they probably are. If I know I can push an opponent's buttons, I most likely am going to push them. Someone who gets upset easily will make a mistake. Don't let that be you. Your attorney will jump in if the other side goes too far.

5. Collect your thoughts. Don't speak off the cuff. Before answering a question or making a statement, take a moment to collect your thoughts. Make sure you understand the questions asked of you. Think before you speak.

6. Respond to the issues at hand. I realize you have a lot of information that you want to get across to the court. However, it will not make sense if it is not presented properly and, frankly, much of it is not vital to your case. Go over your facts with your attorney and pay attention to how he is leading you though it. Do not take your attorney's questions as an invitation to give an extended soliloquy.

7. When in doubt, don't be a jerk.

Coming to the courtroom prepared, presentable and remaining calm and collected will carry you one step closer to your goal.