There are lots of reasons you may need to appear in court in your lifetime, from traffic tickets or car accidents to family custody hearings. No matter what the reason, it’s important to be educated and prepared for what can be a very stressful situation. Before you walk into the courtroom, this is what you need to know.
Know the Basics
The last thing you want to do is show up late for your court appearance, or in the wrong place. Make sure you know exactly where you’re going and how to get there, including once you are in the courthouse building. Try a dry run before your court date and drive to the courthouse to see how bad traffic is and what your commute time will be, and what the parking situation is like. You should also look if there are different entrances, and which one is closer to the room you will be appearing in.
On the day of your appearance, make sure to arrive early in case of any unexpected delays. Showing up late will reflect poorly on you. Make sure to dress respectfully and conservatively, as you would for a job interview, but still comfortably, so you are not fidgeting during the proceedings.
Get Your Paperwork in Order
Before your court date, you should organize all the necessary paperwork and documentation you need. If you need to bring evidence such as photos or documents, make sure to have them with you on the day of your court date. For car accident lawsuits, you should bring photos, insurance paperwork, and police reports – get more on this site. Keep all your files clean and secure in a binder, file folder, or briefcase ahead of time. Spilling coffee on your paperwork is a big no-no!
If you have an attorney, make sure to speak to them prior to your court date. They will let you know what documents they may need you to bring or what to expect from the judge. If there’s anything you need to submit to them ahead of time, do so in a timely matter so they can best prepare your case.
Learn All You Can About Your Judge
If possible, learn who will be overseeing your case and try to get a feel for how they operate. Judges often differ in their approach to interpreting the law. Some judges may be stricter, while others are more lenient.
Try to get an understanding of how the judge assigned to your case often rules on similar issues. You can do this by speaking to your attorney who may have worked cases for this judge in the past, or by simply attending public hearings to see how the judge acts in person. This will help you understand how the judge may handle issues in your case and how best you can present yourself to them during your own hearing.
Check In Before Your Hearing
When you arrive at the courthouse on the day of your hearing, there will be a clerk who you must check in with. You will have to prove your identity, so be sure to have a valid ID with you when you sign in.
There will also be a hearing list, which will tell you which room your hearing will take place in, and what number your case is. The judge will call the case by numbers, so you can usually get an idea of how long it will be until it’s your turn.
You or your attorney can also check in with your opponent or their counsel. This is good for building rapport and hopefully making it easier to reach an agreement. You may even want to try and reach a solution with them you can present to the judge. For example, if you are trying to evict a tenant for unpaid rent, you may be able to reach a last-minute deal with them to pay by a certain date, which the judge or adjudicator can then put into writing for you.
Know What Not to Say
While you might be tempted to argue with statements or stand up for yourself, know that it can sometimes reflect poorly on you. Saying that you believe the judge is being unfair or your opponent is lying (without proof) will only work to turn the judge against you. This is something that can often occur in family court, as emotions are high.
It’s important to remember not to attack your opponent or bring up arguments that aren’t relevant to your case. For example, in child custody battles, allegations of infidelity don’t carry any weight, so it’s best to leave them out.
Stay Calm and Collected
It’s important to keep your cool no matter what happens. It’s normal to be nervous before your appearance, but try not to let your nerves overtake you and create undue stress. Follow proper courtroom etiquette and be as polite and respectful as possible, especially to the judge. You can speak to your attorney ahead of time about how you’ll be expected to behave and where you will sit or stand – knowing these details can help prevent you from feeling flustered on the day.
If the judge rules in a way that you are unhappy with, do your best to mask your emotions. Thank the judge for their time and then speak to your attorney outside the courtroom about how you will move forward and possibly appeal or refile.
Make Sure to Take Notes
You’re an active participant in your hearing, even if your attorney is speaking for you. Bring a notebook to write down statements that don’t understand or need clarified, questions you have and, most importantly, the judge’s ruling.
This is the agreement that you will be entering into, either with the opposing party or the state, depending on what your hearing is about. You may need to take immediate action, so it’s good to write down the details. Your attorney can review this with you and let you know what is expected of you both immediately and in the near future. For example, after a traffic infraction, you may have to pay a fine or attend classes within a certain number of days.
Along with your own notes, you can request the transcript from your hearing. This can help in case you believe the judge has made an error in their ruling and you wish to appeal, or if your trial is to be continued at a later date.
Attending a court date, whether as a defendant, plaintiff, or a witness, is a stressful experience, However, if you follow these steps, you reduce your stress level and enter the courtroom prepared and ready to win your case.