Many people go to court without a lawyer, also called appearing “pro se.” It can be a scary process, but preparing for the court hearing and knowing what to expect can reduce stress and allow you to better present the facts and issues in your case. If you are representing yourself in court, the following steps will help you prepare.
1) Know where your courtroom is located. Once you receive your court date, take a trip and find your courtroom. This will help you plan travel time, parking or bus routes, plus give you an idea of the layout of the building so that you can easily find your way to court on the day of your hearing. Always make sure to leave plenty of travel time for unexpected issues. If you are not in your courtroom at the time your case is called it can be dismissed or move forward without you.
2) Present yourself as a business person at your hearing. Although you are not a lawyer, you are representing yourself and you want to look and act the part. You do not need to buy new clothing, but make sure to dress professionally. Also, make sure all devices, such as cell phones, are turned off. Court officials may take these items if they ring during a hearing. In addition, you should only bring into the courtroom people needed for your case. Others can distract you during the hearing and may cause disruption. You should address the judge as “Your Honor.” Although you may disagree with the opposing party, do not interrupt or argue with anyone in court. You will be given time to speak and present your case.
3) Prepare the evidence you will use in your case. Not all evidence is allowed to be used to support your case. At the hearing, the judge or magistrate may tell you that you cannot present certain evidence. Don’t get frustrated if you are told this and continue moving forward with your case. For any papers you plan to use as evidence, make sure to have copies for you, the opposing party and the court. The court and the opposing party will keep their copies. You should also talk with your potential witnesses to prepare them and let them know they may have to answer questions from the opposing party or attorney and the judge. Remind your witnesses to dress appropriately and turn off all devices before entering the courtroom.
Following these steps can help you feel prepared, avoid unexpected surprises the day of your hearing, and present your case clearly to the court.
This article was written by Legal Aid supervising attorneys Lauren Gilbride and Kari White and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!