From traffic court to family law proceedings to divorce litigation to criminal trials, your behavior in court can dramatically impact your case and the impression made upon the judge or jury. Even with the advent of virtual or video court appearances, it remains important that you remember that even though you are not physically in court that does not mean that the formalities and practices of the court are forgotten.
So, it is important to keep the following in mind as you prepare for court:
1. Dress Appropriately
Make a strong first impression in a professional and appropriate formal outfit. Dress as you would for a first interview, but without any unnecessary displays. For example, wearing an expensive watch or diamond jewelry to a divorce proceeding may suggest that you're perfectly capable of handling high alimony payments. Wearing shorts and t-shirts will give the court the impression that you don’t respect the proceedings or the judge’s authority. Aim for simple and business-like. I have witnessed judges tell parties to dress “more appropriately” for the next time that they appear, that’s simply not the impression you want to leave with the person presiding over your case.
2. Arrive Early
Again, this is all about impressions and respect for the court process. A late arrival creates a horrible first impression. Even making it in the nick of time can cause problems as it may make you feel rushed and impact your concentration. It may also limit your communication with your lawyer prior to the appearance, which is never a good thing. Arriving early will also help deal with traffic and parking issues that always arise on the way to the courthouse.
3. Silence Or Turn Off Your Phone
Smart phones permeate every aspect of modern life, but they should not prompt distractions in court. If your phone is a constant temptation, consider leaving it in the car or at minimum, keep it on silent. Again, when court is in session, the rules and formalities of the proceedings take priority. There are some courts in Westchester County where the judge will confiscate the phone or have the Court Officer remove the individual from the courtroom.
4. Use Formal Titles
Don't refer to the opposition party or their attorney by his or her first name. Instead, use formal titles such as Mr. ___ or Ms. ___. This rule is especially important when addressing the judge. Use Your Honor of Judge ___.
5. Resist the Urge to Interrupt
Though court proceedings can be adversarial and emotional, appearing in court is not like debating a point or issue at home. In fact, your opposition will likely make several statements you find objectionable. Instead of shouting him or her down, wait for your opportunity to respond. The best advice is to direct your comments or notes to your lawyer and let them do the talking for you. The judge will often direct the discussion and everyone will be given a chance to be heard. More importantly, never interrupt the judge when they are speaking.
6. Don't Insult and Control Your Expressions
Avoid harsh language. Tone down negative rhetoric, and avoid expletives and insults at all costs.
Along the same lines, disdain will show just as readily on your face as it does through your language. Avoid scowls, eye-rolling, or other expressions of contempt.
7. No Food or Drink, and Leave the Gum at Home
Wait until after your court session to eat, drink or chew gum. Don’t be the client who is handed a garbage can in the middle of the court appearance so you can throw out your gum. It happens more often than you might think.
Having the right attorney who is experienced in handling court appearances and trials can guide you through the complications of court to help put your best foot forward and build on that important first impression.
Stephen J. Riebling, Jr. and Marcia Payton are criminal defense and family law attorneys at Riebling & Payton, PLLC, located in Westchester County, NY. They have been handling jury trials and court appearances for decades. To learn more about them, the firm and their approach please visit Riebling & Payton, PLLC at www.WestchesterDefenseAttorney.com.