How Not to Lose Before Opening Your Mouth in Court

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on October 25, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Law students and new associates are heading into new offices for first jobs. Most of those positions involve at least some courtroom appearances which means it's time to brush up on etiquette.

Laugh all you want but knowing how to act in the courtroom is important not least of all because law is full of repeat players. Get on the bad side of a local judge and your career will feel much longer than you want.

Whether you're a green attorney or have thirty years of courtroom experience it's never a bad time to remind yourself of courtroom etiquette to set yourself up for success.

  • Dress to impress the judge. If the judge finds your outfit offensive it can make it that much harder to win your objections and get your point across. If the judge prefers neutral colors or longer skirts, it may be a good idea to hold your nose and acquiesce. Remember that your job is to help your client and that includes working with the judge.

  • Keep it brief. Judges have to listen to a lot so be sure to rein it in whenever possible. Of course you don't want to sell your client short. But you can also lose by being long winded. Say what you need to say but don't keep at it when it's clear you've gotten the point across.

  • Don't make excuses. No one really wants to hear why your brief is late or your documents aren't in order. If something comes up that will significantly affect your case, tell the judge before the hearing. In the courtroom just apologize and move on.

  • No interruptions please. Cell phone noise in a hearing is not a good idea and if it happens more than once you could have a problem on your hands. Get in the habit of putting your phone on silent before you enter the courtroom so that you won't be 'that guy.'

  • Be polite to everyone. It can be tempting to take opposing counsel's arguments personally or fight with the judge over a ruling. But law is a repetitive practice and you will likely see those people many times in your career. Building good relationships with colleagues doesn't just mean the attorneys in your office. Extend that courtesy to the people you interact with in court.

Courtroom etiquette may sound stuffy but the purpose is to let your skill as an attorney shine. Set yourself up for success so that you won't fall down on the job.

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