How to Behave in a Courtroom


When you are a defendant or plaintiff in a courtroom proceeding, you shouldn’t expect to prevail based on the truth alone.

No matter how convinced you are of the righteousness of your cause judges and juries won’t automatically give you the benefit of the doubt. If you want them to take you seriously you must prove your case and establish yourself as a reliable, trustworthy and dependable person.

Six Principles of Conduct

Fairly or unfairly, your conduct in the courtroom can play a decisive role in the final resolution of your case.

Here are a few important principles of proper courtroom behavior you should always try to observe …

  1. Dress for success

Comfort and personal expression don’t matter but the impression you make on the judge and jury does. Suits, dress shirts and pants for men and a business suit or other type of workplace-appropriate outfit for women are good choices. Be sure to wear dress shoes, not sneakers or sandals.

  1. Follow instructions to the letter

Do what bailiffs, court attendants and judges tell you to do. Go where they tell you to go and don’t assume a combative or non-cooperative attitude. If you don’t understand an instruction ask a court official about it politely and thank them for their response.

  1. Speak only when you’re supposed too

Don’t interrupt judges or lawyers—not even your own—and don’t speak to family or friends sitting in the gallery. Cell phones are forbidden in courtrooms so don’t even think about using one, even if court isn’t officially in session.

  1. Watch your body language

Body language that expresses excessive or negative emotion, such as eye rolling, hand waving, crossed arms, finger pointing or wild gesturing should be avoided. Listen intently when others are testifying, or conversing with the judge, and remain calm and under control when your turn comes to speak.

  1. Speak clearly and politely

If you are required to speak to the court, stand up, address the judge as “your honor” and don’t shout, mumble or whisper. Never show impatience if the judge or opposing attorney interrupts you to ask for clarification. Maintain eye contact with judges, attorneys or jury members as appropriate, and when you finish speaking say ‘thank you’ and return to your seat promptly.

  1. Answer questions directly, honestly and respectfully – but don’t let yourself be rushed

When testifying keep your answers brief and to-the-point. Resist the temptation to embellish your statements or accent them by gesturing or raising your voice. If you find a particular question combative or hostile don’t respond aggressively or react with defensiveness. Take your time to gather your thoughts before responding and never let the opposing counsel bait you or rush you into answering too quickly.

Respect the Court and the Court will Respect You

A composed, careful, dignified manner lets the judge, jury and court officers know you take the proceedings seriously. Demonstrate respect and you will gain it in return, and if the facts truly are on your side your chances of winning your case will be significantly enhanced.

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