Whether you are summoned or the one that did the summoning, marching into a courtroom is no easy trek. Your battle doesn’t begin with the questioning; it starts from the moment you walk in the door making the banal call to “dress for success” a critical war strategy. But clothing alone does not the victor make; here are six things you should know before you set foot in the hallowed halls of justice.
1. Dress to Convince.
First impressions count -- so dress properly. “This is a formal occasion and one should dress in a dignified way. It isn't a party,” says David Leibowitz, an attorney who was formally designated as an Illinois Super Lawyer by the Leading Lawyer Network. “A suit and tie or a jacket and dress slacks is good for men. A nice and not-revealing outfit is appropriate for women. It could be a suit or a dress or a pant-suit. The attire should connote respect.”
“Dress like you are going to your grandfather's funeral and your grandmother will be there, watching and judging you,” concurs Mary Beth Long, a Richmond, Virginia-based Family Law attorney. “Men and women should both go easy on the jewelry. Consider covering tattoos, piercings, etc. Do not look rich or flashy. Look respectful and serious.” d360 member POV: How to behave inside a courtroom
2. Answer the question and only the question.
“Resist the urge to tell the back story, the whole story or what happened right before that thing you were asked about,” advises Long.
In general, less is better… so say as little as possible. “Don't speak unless you are spoken to when represented by an attorney. If you represent yourself, speak when called upon and don't interrupt your adversary. You will get a turn,” adds Leibowitz. “Judges lose patience and get bored, too. Make what you say count, do not waste the judge's time,” Long concurs.
It’s imperative not to jump to answer the question before the questioner finishes posing it. “Be respectful and a good listener,” advises Cathy Cowin, an attorney and mediator in Fresno, Calif. Listen to every word so that you answer the actual question and do not volunteer unnecessary information. Usually the first thing nervous people do is blurt out the one thing they most feared would be revealed. “Rambling on will sometimes bring up facts that end up helping the other side,” warns Long. 3. Don’t Aim To Please.
“Turn down those people-pleaser instincts,” advises Long. “When you testify, do not guess. Do not speculate,” adds Long. “You would be amazed by how often I have seen people get themselves in trouble by trying to be accommodating and thus guessing at answers in court. If you do not know the answer, say that and then button your lip.”