Court etiquette goes beyond just showing up for your scheduled court date. There are rules and manners you and those who accompany you must follow. Then there are those unwritten rules of courtroom behavior that are optional but should be followed simply because it is in your best interest to do so. Below are some tips for court to ensure your experience goes as smoothly as possible.
How to Dress for Court
Whether it’s fair or not, people do make judgments about others based on the way they look, even if subconsciously, and judges/jurors are no exceptions. To an extent, what to wear in court could be considered highly subjective, but appropriate courtroom attire should be professional looking and portray you in the most positive light possible. For a man, a suit and tie are preferable as it is generally regarded to convey the best possible image in western societies. For women, a business professional dress is a safe bet as it doesn’t convey hypersexuality but still conveys a feminine look. If you can’t afford or don’t own a suit (or otherwise extremely professional attire), you should still make every effort to appear as “clean cut” as possible. This means that you should avoid jeans and t-shirts at all costs. For men, a button-up shirt that is tucked in with slacks and dress shoes (or any shoes except for sneakers or sandals) is a good option. For women, a dress or skirt (not too short) is fine, too. If you have tattoos that you can cover up with clothing, cover them up. If you are a man with piercings, take them out. Ear piercings are ok for women, but facial piercings should be avoided by both genders (lips, eyebrows, nose, etc.) If your hair is colored in any way that is not naturally occurring in the human species (colors like blue, green, pink, etc.), change it to a natural color. Remember, your goal is not to make a fashion statement or to convey your individuality, it’s to get a favorable ruling. Your attorney may make recommendations that could be specifically chosen based on the circumstances of your particular case, but it is generally agreed that the more professional and the less threatening you appear, the better.
Timeliness is Important
There is a saying in the military: “Early is on time, on-time is late, and late is unacceptable.” Even if you are a civilian, this is good advice when it comes to your court date, so be early.
Being early will leave you enough time for tricky parking, security checkpoints, or any other potential hold ups. It will also help you to be calm enough to treat everyone with respect and kindness, which is always to your advantage. Various social studies have shown that people were more inclined to help someone in need if they were not in a rush to get where they needed to go. Do whatever you can to ensure that everyone who will be in court with you is also early.
Turn Your Cellphone Off
This one is pretty simple and shouldn’t need much explanation: the use of cell phones is not allowed in court. It’s bad enough to be “that guy” in the movie theater, but that much worse to be “that guy” in the courtroom. So don’t be that guy/girl and make a point to turn your phone off before you walk into the courtroom so that no accidental notifications disrupt the hearing process and you appear engaged and not distracted.
Courtroom Demeanor and Expected Court Decorum
Once inside of the courtroom, make sure you are following directions at all times. You may have a lot of questions about your hearing, but the time to ask them is not during the hearing. Your lawyer will be able to answer them either before or after the hearing. Also, make sure those accompanying you know to do the same.
Even without speaking, you could convey more than what you want through body language. Be aware of your court demeanor. Everything from your posture to your facial expressions will convey a message, so make sure it’s not a negative one.
Most importantly, whatever you do, don’t show anger. Court hearings can potentially bring up a lot of emotions, specifically anger. While feeling anger is natural and unavoidable in some scenarios, do not let that anger show in court. Showing any aggression could hurt your case immensely, even if you’ve done everything else right. Your courtroom decorum should, at worst, be neutral. While this may be difficult depending on your temperament, it’s not impossible to achieve, especially with some practice beforehand. To that point, be honest with yourself. If you are an individual who has a hard time wrangling his/her emotions, recognize this and take steps to counter it before your day in court.