Feeling nervous about your court appearance? It is normal to feel a little stressful and hesitant about stepping in the court regardless of your circumstances. If you want to dispel those butterflies in your stomach, you must prepare yourself for your court appearance.
If you step in front of the judge without preparation, opposing lawyers would leapfrog over issues favorable to you and get the decision in their favor. So, to help you get ready for your appearance in the court, we’ll share a few important things you need to do before your big day.
PREPARE YOUR DOCUMENTS
Make copies of all the documents that you filed; this will allow you to distribute them to the other side and the judge. Bring originals as well just in case the judge asks for them. Consider organizing your documents alphabetically or by subject matter so that you can quickly take them out when required. Mark off separate sections or subjects using tabs. You could also use different colored markers to indicate important documents that you think you will need to access more.
If any additional documents support your claim, take them with you to the court. Make copies of these documents so that you can present them to the judge when required. Check the rules of the court to determine whether these documents need to be stamped by the clerk before hearing or shared with the other side. Failure to follow the rules could mean that you won’t be able to use your supporting documents during the court hearing.
PREPARE YOUR EVIDENCE
You might have to present evidence in the courtroom to get the decision in your favor. If a certain piece of evidence is so large that you can’t bring it into the court, take photos of it to present to the judge. For example, if your car was damaged, you must take photos of wrecked areas. Clearly, you can’t bring your car to the courtroom and the judge can’t visit your home to look at the damaged car in person.
If you want to present smaller items as evidence, make sure to separate them from each other, label them properly, and secure them. This way, the evidence will be preserved in its original state without any change. For example, if you are suing someone for spilling coffee on your smartphone, you should cover it so that you can present it in its original state following the damage.
Make sure to check the rules of the court about the items you plan on presenting as evidence. If the items you intend to present as evidence aren’t permitted, you will have to make other arrangements to show them to the judge.
GATHER YOUR WITNESSES
Meet your witnesses before the hearing to ensure that they are prepared to tell the truth to the judge. Let your witnesses know when the court hearing is scheduled so that they can make arrangements to come to the courtroom on time. Avoid choosing relatives or close friends as witnesses, unless you want them to testify your reputation or character. If someone is closely related to you, the judge would assume that they are biased towards you and won’t speak the truth. Have subpoenas – a writ that orders a person to come to the court – issued to the witnesses to ensure that they appear at trial. A subpoena can help your case witnesses get off work by providing it to their employer.
When you meet the witnesses, practice the questions that you will ask them in the courtroom so that they are prepared to answer. Don’t coach them to say anything in particular. They’ll be under oath and must tell the truth. If you give them canned answers to the questions you plan to ask, you’ll risk losing the case. Write out all the important questions beforehand so that you have a list to follow in the courtroom. However, don’t just stay limited to these questions; ask more to elucidate further.
You should also brainstorm possible questions that the witnesses might get from the other side and help them prepare for those. Moreover, consider brainstorm questions that you will ask from the witnesses of the other side. Since you will be your witness, think about the questions that the other side might ask from you during the hearing. Rehearse the answer to those questions so that you can keep your cool and stick to the facts during the hearing.
Witnesses who have had prior court experience might be able to help you with the procedures and rules of the courtroom. They will have an understanding of what is expected of them and will be reliable for you on the stand.
GET YOURSELF READY
Consider going to the court a few days before the hearing so that you can figure out where to park and also where your courtroom is located. You should try to get to the courtroom at least 20 minutes before your hearing is scheduled to start so that you have plenty of time to get everything organized. You could also consider making a dry run so that you know how much time it’ll take you to get to the court on the day of the hearing.
Make sure to have everything you need for hearing ready the night before the hearing to ensure that you don’t forget anything in the morning. You should wear clean, formal clothing – not necessarily a suit, but make sure that your attire is professional. Prepare your outfit the night before, along with your shoes and any other thing that you want to wear so that you don’t waste your precision time in the morning.
Study everything you have filed with the court and the documents you are carrying with you so that you know your case well. Consider writing an outline of what you plan on speaking and what you want to ask from the witnesses and include documents and evidence that will support your statements. Study your outline before the hearing.
Some people feel nervous when speaking in public. If you are one of them, rehearse your statements in front of the mirror until you feel comfortable with what you intend to say in the courtroom. You can make notes on index cards to stay on track. You could also include some encouraging remarks on the cards to motivate yourself just in case things aren’t going in your favor.
Judges appreciate clear and concise statements. Stick with the facts and explain to the judge why the case should be ruled in your favor. You can also practice your statements before family members. They might point out some verbal tics that you might not notice. Ask them whether they can hear your voice clearly and how solid your points are.
It is important to note that telling a story in the court isn’t like telling it to a friend. You must stick to the facts and avoid any emotional statements. Your emotions have no role in legal analysis, so keep them outside of the courtroom.
Check the rules of the court and for your judge to ensure that you don’t do or take anything that isn’t allowed. For example, food or drinks are typically not allowed in the courtroom. However, you might be permitted to bring them if you have a special medical condition that warrants you to drink or eat something frequently. Also, turn off your mobile phone so that it doesn’t cause a disturbance in the courtroom.
A FEW ADDITIONAL TIPS
· LEARN THE ELEMENTS
You will not win a lawsuit by simply stepping into the courtroom and demanding money from the other side. Each type of claim has several elements that you will need to prove to get the decision in your favor. If you can’t prove a certain element, you will lose. For example, if there is a contract dispute, you will have to prove that the contract existed, you stuck to the agreement, your opponent didn’t meet their contractual obligations and you suffered damage as a result. You will have to plan very carefully and make sure that you have the documents and evidence to prove every individual element of the case. If you are the defendant, make sure that you can disprove at least one element of the opponent’s case. Review jury instructions to find the case elements. These are simple statements of the law that will be read to the jury by the judge so that the jury knows the elements that must be proven by you.
· LEARN THE ROPES
Lawyers spend years learning how to present evidence, question witnesses and make arguments in the courtroom. Before you stand in front of the judge, learn the basic rules and procedures of the courtroom, including how to present evidence, question witnesses and prove your case. You might be able to find some information on the local rules of the court, but it will be limited. You will have to look elsewhere for detailed information on presenting your case. You could also consider asking someone who has faced a trial for help. They should know how to handle each step in a trial.
· WATCH SOME TRIALS
Before your hearing, go down to the courthouse and watch some trials that involve similar issues. You will see how the lawyers present their story and evidence to the judge. This is helpful if you wish to learn what to expect in a trial. You should be able to watch one or two trials in two hours. When you know about what to expect, you will be more relaxed about your hearing.
· BE RESPECTFUL
Be respectful of your opponents and the judge. Address the judge as “your honor”. Stay polite to the other side, don’t be petty or demeaning. Showing respect for the judge and other parties in the courtroom will help you gain the respect of the judge, which will make your experience pleasant.
· DON’T INTERRUPT
It can be hard to sit quietly while your opponent’s lawyer or the judge implies that your facts aren’t conclusive or you are telling lies. However, no matter how angry or frustrated you get, avoid interrupting. You will get a chance to share everything you have prepared with the judge. The judge is more likely to believe you when you are calm, so it helps you to keep your cool.
If you want to win a case, you must prepare yourself before you step into the courtroom. When you step in front of the judge prepared, you will be more confident to make strong arguments and prove the elements of your case. You’ll be able to provide supporting evidence and question witnesses to strengthen your position at the court. Thus, you will more likely to get the decision in your favor
On the other hand, if you go unprepared, you won’t know what to do and how to make strong arguments. Lawyers of the other side, recognizing your lack of preparation, will quickly take control of the case and destroy you with their arguments. So, properly prepare yourself before you step in front of the judge.
We have discussed everything you need to do to prepare yourself for the trial. But, if you still think that you aren’t up for hearing, consider seeking help from a professional who knows the ropes. They should be able to help you fight the case and potentially win.