Find a quick way to court
What you should do to prepare for your upcoming court date depends on what type of case you have. In this section we give you general guidelines for how to best prepare yourself for court. It is possible that you will see something that does not apply to your case. For example, if you have a divorce case, you can ignore the suggestions about preparing to pick a jury. If you have a small claims case, you do not have to worry about the rules of evidence. So keep in mind that these are general suggestions and may not apply to every case.
Before Your Court Date
- Read your court papers. Understand what each form asks and how the other side has responded.
- Make a list of your reasons for each request. Write down the answers the other side gives to each request.
- Observe hearings ahead of time, if you can, in front of the same judge or for the same type of case as yours. Watch lawyers and how they act in the courtroom, how they speak to the judge, how they ask questions, etc.
- Research any remaining legal issues in your case.
- Review all discovery (if there has been any).
- If you are going to have a jury trial, make sure you understand the rules for selecting a jury. Prepare the questions you want to ask prospective jurors.
- For a formal trial, outline your opening statement.
- Prepare all your evidence.
The following guidelines should always be followed in court:
- Dress neatly and respectfully, as if you were going to a job interview.
- Take all the papers that have been filed or served and any other documents that you will need to show to the judge.
- Take blank paper and a pen.
- Be on time. Allow extra time for traffic or other possible delays. (If you are delayed or unable to attend the hearing due to a car breakdown, sudden illness, or other emergency, contact the clerk for the court department where your hearing will take place on or before your hearing time.)
- Turn off your cell phone or pager when you enter the courtroom.
- When your case is called, walk to the table or podium in front of the judge and stand facing the judge.
- Be prepared to state your name and your relationship to the case.
- Speak clearly and loudly enough that the judge can hear you. Speak only when it is your turn.
- When you speak to the judge, act respectfully and call him or her “your honor.” NEVER interrupt the judge.
- Summarize your point of view. Explain why the judge should approve (or not approve) each request you have made.
- If you get nervous in court, look at your list. This will help you to speak to the judge.
- If you are asking for court orders, make sure that the judge makes an order on EACH item you have asked for.
- Do not depend on the judge to remember everything you have asked for. If something has been overlooked, tell the judge.
- Answer all of the judge’s questions and stop talking immediately if the judge interrupts you.
- If you do not understand something, say that you do not understand. Someone will try to explain it for you.
- Do not leave the courtroom unsure of what the judge ordered. Make sure you understand the court order and also what you need to do when the hearing is over. You may have to prepare an order for the judge to sign. You may have to wait around for the judge to sign an order. Just ask if you are not sure.