It’s important to make a good impression! The fact finder (whether that is the jury or a judge) will be judging you! There is no way around that. Your appearance, dress, and actions can affect how the court sees you. That will affect how successful you are in presenting your legal case.
And whether you like it or not, the people judging you are human beings with their own biases. It doesn’t matter if they are wrong about you – they are in control of your life. Realize this and always remember you are “on” during your court proceeding.
Here are some tips on how to make a good impression on your first date, uh, I mean court appearance. (That is only partly a joke. You should treat going to court much like you would a first date. You want to look your best!)
it goes without saying that you will talk to your attorney before court, but there are other things you can do on your own. Figure out where you are going, and learn a little about the court before you go. The website of the Maryland court system has a lot of good information for everyone appearing before the court.
What to Wear
Business casual attire is the standard for Court. Dress as you would when going for an important job interview or to church. If you don’t know what “business casual” is, Google it. There are ton of articles out there explaining the concept and providing pictures!
Men should wear shoes with socks; long pants (on pants with belt loops, wear a belt); collared shirt (tucked in) preferably with a tie, and without a jacket (unless you normally wear a jacket). Women should wear closed-toe shoes; a dress, skirt (preferably no more than two inches above the knee) or long pants; a blouse, sweater or casual dress shirt.
DO NOT WEAR THE FOLLOWING ITEMS: shorts, hats, halter or tube top, flip flops, clothing that exposes your midriff or underwear, anything too revealing, ripped or torn jeans, baggy pants that fall below your hips, or anything that is stained. Try to avoid clothing with emblems, logos, or words.
Also, now is probably not the time to wear that super fashionable outfit you got recently. If your look is too “now,” then it is probably not right for court.
Believe it or not, I have seen people wearing shirts with offensive words to court. That is just stupid. They were clearly trying to offend people. I also once saw a guy coming out of a child support hearing wearing his “number 1 Dad” T-shirt. That was stupid for a different reason. He was trying to make himself look good, and it came off laughable.
What to Bring (or Leave at Home)
Courtrooms are very strict about what you can and cannot bring in with you. Things that are noisy, distracting, or disrespectful will not be allowed. This includes some electronic devices. You can bring a cell phone, but be careful with other items. And no matter what, put it on silent or vibrate before you walk into the courthouse.
Food and drinks are also not permitted in any courtroom, and that includes chewing gum. Please leave all the snacks in the car.
Children are allowed in most courtrooms if they are capable of behaving. We would much rather you not bring your children if you can swing that. No offense, but it is going to distract you from the matter at hand. If you must bring your children, have someone with you who can take the child out if he or she needs to leave. Better yet, have them watched by someone out in the hallway.
However, do NOT bring your children to court if they are the subject of the proceedings. I once represented a lady who brought her teenage daughter to the custody hearing which was about her, so she could “see what her father is really like.” The Judge very angrily ordered her out of the courtroom. That most certainly did not help our case!
When to Show Up
Being on time means being a bit early. You should try to get to the courthouse at least 15 minutes before your hearing. That way, if you hit any traffic on the way to court, you’re still likely to be on time. And the further you are driving, the longer you should make that lead time. Traffic in this area is crazy and unpredictable.
You might have to sit and wait, but that’s better than being late. And guess what? You are going to probably sit and wait anyway. Court is all about “hurry up and wait.” That is just the nature of the beast. It is not a system designed for efficiency.
Being early also gives you a chance to speak with your attorney before you head into the courtroom. This last minute preparation is always good, so you are both on the same page.
A courtroom is a solemn place. You are in the judicial branch of the state government. A Judge demands respect as a representative of the government. Specific rules apply to those who are bringing cases to court or who have cases brought against them.
In fact, anyone appearing before the court, including witnesses and members of the public, have the responsibility to act with respect. The key word is “respect.” You must have respect for the judge as a representative of the court, and respect for the courtroom process.
It is best to refer to the Judge as “your honor” instead of “sir” or “ma’am.” Don’t interrupt the Judge, and never argue with the Judge. You have a right to say your piece, but do it at the right time, and do it with respect.
Look presentable, show up on time, and show respect to the judge and everyone else in the courtroom. It’s common sense, but that can completely go out the window when you’re stressed out! We hope this primer helps you remember what to do when you have to go to court.
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