Getting ready for a court hearing, or trial

Being in a courtroom, in front of a judge, can be very stressful. Here are some tips from us, to help make the most of your appearance.

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Tips for Courtroom Behavior

  • Be in the courtroom at least fifteen minutes before the trial is set to start. NEVER BE LATE.

  • Your witnesses must be ready to go when they call your case for trial. If you do not need a witness for several hours, make sure they are available within ten to fifteen minutes with a quick phone call.

  • Plan to be at court all morning. Your case might not be the first one called.

  • Do not bring your children. If your children will be speaking to the judge, they should wait outside the courtroom during the trial.

  • You may bring a friend for moral support. That person must not speak once they call your case.

  • Go into the courtroom and sit quietly to wait for them to call your case.

  • In the courtroom, do not: chew gum, eat, drink, read a newspaper, sleep, wear a hat, listen to earphones, use a cell phone, camera, or camera phone, or carry a weapon.

  • Go over your paperwork before the hearing. Know your papers. If you or one of your witnesses has filed a declaration in the case, the person's testimony must be the same as what they said in the declaration. You may use written notes or an outline during the hearing.  

  • Stand when the judge enters the courtroom. Listen to the court staff. They may announce other times when you need to stand.

When it is your turn to go before the judge:

  • When it is time for your hearing, the clerk or judge will probably read all the cases scheduled for hearing at that time. When they call your name, you must answer and, if asked, tell the judge whether your case is agreed, a default, or if there will be argument.

  • When they call your case for hearing, walk to the table or podium for lawyers in front of the judge. Stand facing the judge. The judge will tell the parties when to speak. Speak only to the judge and only when it is your turn.

  • Opening and closing statements: You get to address the judge at both the start and end of the trial. You should summarize what you want and why. Be brief. Be clear. Be as specific as you can.

  • Listen carefully.

  • Do not interrupt or speak to the other party, even if they interrupt or speak to you.  You want to appear polite and reasonable. Staying calm even when the other party is rude or lies will impress the judge. You will get your turn to prove the other party wrong.

  • If you need to explain something the other party said, wait your turn to speak or ask to speak again.

  • When you talk to the judge, start by saying "Your Honor."

  • Speak loudly and clearly so the judge can hear you. Use words, phrases and terms you understand.  Keep your hands away from your mouth. Control your emotions. Stay calm.

  • Do not ramble when giving evidence to support your side of the story. You may have no more than five minutes to speak. Call the court clerk to find out the time limits for your county before you work on what you want to say.

  • Stick to the FACTS.

  • Do not talk about issues that do not support your case.

  • Try not to use first names in addressing anyone in the courtroom.

  • Only one person can speak at a time. A court reporter is taking down everything said in the courtroom. S/he can only record one speaker at a time.

  • The judge will ask questions. If you do not understand the question, say so.  Do not answer until you fully understand the question.

  • Take your time when answering questions. Give the question as much thought as you need to understand it and come up with your answer. Explain your answer if needed.

  • It is okay to admit that you do not know the answer to a question.

  • If you are stating dates, times and places, be exact. If you cannot be exact, say that you are only estimating.

  • Be polite. 

  • If the other party objects to something, do not interrupt until s/he states why. The court will then allow you to respond. Then the court will rule on the objection. Do not speak to the other party during objections.

  • Do not laugh or talk about the case in the hallway or restrooms of the courthouse. The judge, other party or his/her lawyer or witnesses may see or hear you.

When the judge makes a decision:

  • Control your emotions.

  • Do not express either gratitude or disagreement. Do not make faces. 

  • Stay polite to the judge after the ruling. Ask the judge whether you or the other side should write the court order. (The judge will not write the order.)  The judge must sign the order before it becomes effective.

  • Before you leave court, make sure you understand what happens next. Do you need to come back for another court hearing? Do you need to do a written legal argument or proposed court order? Do you need to do anything else? Will the judge make an order as a result of the hearing? Sometimes orders are written up right away - as you wait. Or the judge may think about the case and write an order later and send it in the mail. Politely ask if you do not understand what will happen next.

  • Do not announce in court that you plan to appeal. It is your right to appeal. But your decision to appeal does not matter to the trial court.