·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Lawsuits & Litigation

Representing Yourself? Here’s What to Take to Court

— June 29, 2021

Preparing for a day in court is akin to showing up for a job interview. You want to make a good first impression and be prepared for anything.

The saying goes that the man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client. While that’s certainly true much of the time, there may be occasions, such as fighting a traffic ticket or small claims court, when you head to court on your own. Trial lawyers live and breathe the courtroom everyday, but your time in front of a judge may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Make sure that singular experience goes off without a hitch by remembering these three things.

Dress to Impress

You don’t have to hire your own court reporters Seattle, Washington to Bangor, Maine, but no matter where you are in the U.S., court is not a casual occasion. Show your respect for the court by dressing appropriately. Dress to impress does not mean overdress, either. Business attire, a suit or conservative dress, is the way to go. Choose neutral colors. Your appearance is more than a show of respect, it is how you will be immediately judged. First impressions are lasting impressions. People have an idea of who you are, and whether you are trustworthy within seven seconds of meeting you. While you may be a tree-hugging hippy at heart, when you go to court the only impression you want to make is one that says you are serious and prepared. On that note, the only bad choice for a neutral suit is black; wearing a black suit can make you appear overly domineering and is still associated with “the bad guys.”

Bring Documentation

Image by Susan Robert, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Image by Susan Robert, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Anyone who has ever watched the iconic Judge Judy knows that the first thing you need to support your case is the receipts. Think about your whole story, whether you are the plaintiff or defendant. What documentation can you provide that will prove you are in the right? Bring it all with you. Originals are best and bring at least two copies for the court to review. If you have photographic evidence, passing your phone around isn’t the way to make your point; pay for prints in a size for the court to be able to see clearly and enough copies for both parties and the judge.

Practice at Home

When you’re at home, feeling fired up and righteous, it is easy to think about what you want to say. The fact is, fear of public speaking affects up to 75% of people. The stress of public speaking combined with the fear of a new situation and the anxiety of possibly being found in the wrong can make even your strongest arguments difficult to articulate or fly out of your head entirely. Write down the points you feel are imperative to your case so you’ll have them to refer to when you are in court. Next, take those points and practice what you want to say. Remember that this is not a capital case; the judge doesn’t want to hear an hour of discourse on your speeding ticket. Instead, try speaking for about two to five minutes. Writing out an entire speech is likely to backfire, with you reading rapidly and never looking up. Instead, work from an outline or a couple of note cards with your key ideas. Practice in front of a friend or family member to modulate your speed and delivery. You can even have them act as opposition, and respond to their questions. There are other factors to consider. If English isn’t your first language you may want to hire a translator. If you have trouble hearing, an audio aid or sign language interpreter can be helpful. Check with your court system to see if they will provide one or you need to bring your own. Witnesses to events can also provide extra verification of the events under consideration. If your witness can’t be there in person, they can submit a statement.

Preparing for a day in court is akin to showing up for a job interview. You want to make a good first impression and be prepared for anything. With these three tips, you’re well on your way.

Join the conversation!