Don’t Make These Common Courtroom Mistakes

Oh-oh: You have to go to court. Whether you are a plaintiff, defendant, attorney, or witness, the outcome of your trial may depend, at least in part, on how you conduct yourself in this stressful room. As anyone who has watched the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial knows, courtroom behavior makes people talk, but some of these people may just be jurors or judges, and their opinion is very important here.

Here are some tips on how to behave—and not behave—in court.

Dress up obviously

It goes without saying, but you want to look pretty. Dirty appearance will not make your words especially reliable; Common sense tells us that people, including judges and juries, subconsciously respond better to clean, tidy, collected people.

“Even before the advent of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, there were consultants who gave opinions both about the appearance in the courtroom and the behavior of plaintiffs and defendants, generally suggesting that it would be right to err on the side of conservative dress and a respectful tone.” said University of Miami Law School associate professor and legal ethicist Jan L. Jacobowitz. “The idea is that the person’s dress, tone, or use of language should not detract from the point at issue (and in some cases, respectful presentation can help or increase credibility in a legal argument or litigant).”

In fact, many states have dress codes, so be sure to look them up for your state. According to law firm Carlson , most of these recommendations come down to requiring people on the premises to be properly dressed. The firm also recommends dressing “as if you respect the court.”

In short, wear something conservative that fits well. Now is not the time to opt for haute couture, wrinkled clothes, plunging necklines, unkempt hair, or casual shirts. You don’t have to wear a tailored dress or suit or uncomfortable shoes, but something a little dressy is great. Think business meeting.

Be respectful while you’re there

Judges expect to be treated with respect. If you don’t have a jury, the fate of the case is in their hands, so it won’t be hard for you to remember to always address them with “your honor”.

Be respectful of everyone with whom you have to talk. Refresh your “gentlemen” and “ma’am.”

As Nolo Law advises here , “A little respect goes a long way in the courtroom, especially when you represent yourself. Refer to the judge as “your honor”, not “judge smith” or “mr smith”. Smith. Try to be polite to your opponent, not derogatory or petty. Showing respect for the people and procedures in the courtroom will help you earn the judge’s respect, which will make your day in court more enjoyable.”

Don’t laugh at all

This is where the Depp-Heard case comes into play. Both of them were trashed on social media for smirking and laughing while testifying in a defamation trial. Laughing or looking dismissively while giving evidence is a big mistake.

“Depp laughing and giggling at his lawyers is a huge taboo,” said Elura Nanos, a lawyer and Law & Crime columnist who has done witness preparation in the past. “A key rule of conduct in the courtroom is to refrain from any visible reaction to the testimony of witnesses when you are watching what is happening from the tables of the parties. While Depp may have a charisma that makes his demeanor interesting (and at times even charming), very few parties can count on a chuckle to make the lawyer think well of them.”

Be calm and sincere

Going to court is nerve-wracking no matter what, even if it’s something like a parking ticket. No panic. Get to know the facts of the case beforehand, stay in close contact with your attorney or anyone who is working with you on your appearance, and don’t pretend.

“The main rule for witnesses is to remain calm and sincere,” Nanos said. “Especially in litigation between intimate partners, any large displays of emotion can reflect negatively on the witness. The jury will quickly call a witness who is being too flippant, too dramatic, or too excited. Authenticity is key, and jurors react badly – sometimes subconsciously – to any witness who appears to be playing with them in any way.”

When you’re nervous, it’s easy to be a little sporadic or unusual, so it’s important to prepare ahead of time. Know everything you want to say, and present yourself confidently, calmly and clearly, without pretensions and condescension, even if you are furious.

Remember that all eyes are on you

If you speak, everyone will be looking at you, but even if you are sitting at the parties table in the process or anywhere else, you can still be seen. Your actions still matter. Don’t give up your professional attitude, sit back, act confused, laugh, or deviate from your plan in any way to be presentable, authentic, and trustworthy.

And don’t forget that what happens in the courtroom can easily be reflected outside of it. For example, there are court reporters and even cameras that can take you by surprise. Think of all the viral traffic boat videos you can find on Instagram and TikTok. Your case may not be big enough for an international media circus, but someone, somewhere might still see the clip and recognize you.

“Today, instant social media tools to comment, critique and critique have created a much broader court of “public opinion” that litigants need to be aware of, especially if they are concerned about their reputation or potential “viral” nature. their business,” Jacobowitz said.

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