Your first time inside a courtroom will probably not go the same as you might have seen on some TV show. It will not be that difficult, if you follow the court’s procedures and rules. Courts can be intimidating for anyone, including new attorneys. Anxiety about appearing in court does not always depend on the subject matter or the importance of the case.
One of many judgment-related articles: I am a judgment broker, not a lawyer, and this article is my opinion based on my experience in California, please consult with a lawyer if you need legal advice.
Courts rarely provide instructions, and usually court staffers are not very interested in assisting you. Often, they just watch people fumble around the courthouse and try to navigate the court’s policies.
Depending partially on the size of the courthouse, show up about an hour early. The first hurdle will be to get through the court’s doors and metal detectors. Do not bring anything that can (in any way) considered to be a weapon. Do not bring guns, pocket knives, or pepper spray. In some courts, even nail clippers will be tossed out by the bailiffs. Some courts will not even allow you to bring in food or drinks in your purse, bag, or briefcase!
Once inside the court, check your documents, to see what court room or area you should go to. Sometimes, the court room numbers do not match the court’s department numbers. Also, sometimes there are courts of different jurisdiction within the same courthouse. Check the printouts outside the courtrooms, or any computer monitors the court may have, or politely ask a clerk or a bailiff which courtroom you should go to.
Once you get inside your designated courtroom, the fun and/or awkwardness can begin. When the judge first enters the courtroom, everyone must stand for a moment. When your name or case (or case number) is called, the entire courtroom will for a short time; be devoted to your case. Courtrooms are crowded and over-calendared; and are often chaotic places. Very often, several other cases will have also been calendared for a hearing at the exact same time and place as yours, so you often must wait a while.
Make sure to arrive at your courtroom at least 15 minutes early. Have your case name and case number, and also all your court-provided documentation handy. Take a seat in the back of the general courtroom seating area, and do not approach the bench area until the judge calls your name.
If you notice that a person seems to be comfortable and experienced, watch what they do, for hints about what you should do. Check what the check-in procedures are for your specific courtroom. Every court is different. In some courts, you must check in with the court clerk, at others you check in with the bailiff, at others only attorneys check in, in some courts nobody checks in.
If you see people standing in line for a particular clerk, that is a good indication this is where you need to be, to check-in. Generally, court clerks are very busy and do not have the time or the desire to answer questions or engage in long discussions with you. Be polite, and as direct as possible when checking in with the clerk.
Never upset, or argue with a court clerk. They have the power to make your courtroom experience very difficult. If you feel lost, quietly approach whomever you sense to be familiar with the courtroom procedures and seems to be friendly, preferably an attorney; and ask them where to check in.
Once you check in with the clerk, have a seat in the general court seating area. The seats are similar to church pews, behind the plaintiff and defendant tables and/or podiums. You should not approach those special areas, until your case is specifically called. Make sure your cell phone is turned off or at least silenced, as nothing can potentially upset a court as much as a ringing phone.
Before the courtroom session officially begins, the bailiff or marshal will call the court to order; and usually ask everyone to stand up, while the judge takes the bench. Never sit down before the judge takes their seat, and the bailiff or judge tells the courtroom to be seated.
If your case is not called first, you can watch the actions of the previos parties as they make their entrance from their gallery seats to the appropriate plaintiff and/or defendant table. Generally, attorneys and those in jail are called first, so pay attention to their movements and verbiage as they address the court.
Once your case is called, make sure you start with “your honor” when you address the judge. Hand any of your documents documents to the bailiff, not to the judge.