Preparing for Court
If you have decided to represent yourself in court, make sure you arrive on time, and that you are prepared. Court procedures are complicated and are traditionally handled by lawyers. If you decide to come to court without a lawyer, the judge who hears your case will expect you to follow court procedures and be as prepared as you can be when you arrive at your hearing. The staff in the Clerk's office will be happy to help you but they are limited in what they can and cannot do. Please remember that the court staff must remain impartial. They give the same information to both sides to a case.
Before Your Court Date
- Read the law that applies to your case and become familiar with courtroom procedures. You need to be as prepared as you can be for court, even though you are not a lawyer. The Court will require you to follow the same court rules and procedures that any lawyer must follow.
- Call in advance if you need special accommodations. The clerk's office at each court location will assist you with any arrangements that need to be made for your court appearance related to access to a court proceeding.
- Visit a courtroom in advance of your court date to see how the process works. To find out the court schedule, so you can arrange to watch a hearing in advance, call the clerk's office in the court location where your case is scheduled to be heard.
- Before your court date, check with the clerk to make sure you have all the correct forms and copies you will need for your case to proceed. You are responsible for providing copies of all of your documents to the other side in your case in advance of any court proceeding. It is always helpful to bring extra copies of your documents with you to court. If you don't have the proper number of copies of documents ready when your hearing begins, the judge may have to delay the proceedings.
- Read and organize all documents. Be familiar with the documents that you have collected. Read the documents that the other side in your case has submitted to the court.
- Make sure the witnesses who will testify for you are in court. Remember, in Court, you cannot tell the judge what someone else said about the facts in your case--that is known as "hearsay" and cannot be considered as evidence.
- Write out your questions in advance. Go over your questions with your witnesses ahead of time. This will prepare both you and them for the actual hearing.
- Create an outline or a brief summary of your side of the case. It may be helpful to prepare a brief list of your main points so you will be sure you state all that is necessary.
On Your Court Date
- Arrive on Time. It is important that you arrive on time for your court hearing and that you are organized and ready to proceed when the clerk announces that the judge is ready to hear your case. It is best to plan to arrive a few minutes in advance of your hearing time, to allow for any unforeseen delays and give you time to get comfortable in the courtroom surroundings. Allow some extra time for your court appearance. Court cases often take longer than expected.
- Remember, courts have metal detectors and security screening at their entrances. It may take several extra minutes to enter the courtroom. Any bags or packages that are brought to court are subject to inspection. Weapons are not permitted. Make sure you turn off all cellular phones and beepers.
- You should dress appropriately when going to court. People who come to court, whether they are representing themselves, or appearing as witnesses, or simply observing a proceedings are expected to dress in a manner that respects the formality and dignity of the courtroom proceeding, the judge, the court staff and all the parties involved in your case. Jackets, ties, or dresses are not required, but shorts, t-shirts with inappropriate sayings, ripped clothing, sun wear, and similar items would not be recommended.
- Courtroom conduct. Court proceedings are recorded and it is important that everyone who is not testifying remain quiet. There are no provisions for childcare at the courthouse. Chewing gum in the courtroom, or reading a newspaper or other periodicals while the judge is on the bench is not recommended.
- When you case is called, the courtroom bailiff will direct you where to sit. Bring all of your paperwork with you. Witness should remain in their seats until they are called by the bailiff to the witness stand to testify.
- Always refer to the judge as "Your Honor" or "Judge." Don't interrupt the judge, or a witness when they are speaking and don't argue.
- Be prepared to offer a brief summary of your side of the case. You need to tell the judge exactly what you want and why you should get it. Be brief.
- When asking your witnesses questions, always start by asking them their name and address. If their job is important to your case, ask them what their occupation is, what their educational degrees are, and how long they have been doing their job. Then ask the specific questions that will bring out the information they have about your case.
- You have the right to ask questions of witnesses from the other side after they have been questioned by the attorney representing the other side in your case. Make a list of questions for witnesses in advance and make sure to cover all the items on your list. The judge will make sure that each side gets an opportunity to tell his or her story, so don't rush through your presentation, show respect for all witnesses, even if they have testified against you, and remain calm.
- Be prepared to make a short final statement to the court about the case. A judge may ask, at the close of a case, if you have anything else to say. This is an opportunity for you to provide a brief summary of what you want the court to do.
It is important for you to know that when you come to court without a lawyer you take a risk. The court cannot act on your behalf. Sometimes even simple matters can have legal consequences that you are unaware of or do not understand. Remember, resources may be available to you for low-cost legal assistance.